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TERRORISM

Security upped at Vatican over attack fears

Security has been tightened in Saint Peter's Square after intelligence services intercepted a possible plan to attack the Vatican, Italian media reported Saturday, increasing fears Pope Francis could be in danger.

Security upped at Vatican over attack fears
A file photo of Italian carabinieri policemen standing in front of St Peter's square. AFP Photo/Johannes Eisele

A foreign security service alerted Italy this week after intercepting a conversation between two Arab speakers which referred to "a demonstrative act, Wednesday, at the Vatican," Il Messaggero daily reported.

Wednesday is the day the pope holds his weekly general audience in the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica.

Checks by Italy's anti-terrorism unit revealed that one of the speakers passed through the country eight months ago, heightening concerns the threat may be real.

Earlier warnings that the Islamic State extremists may be plotting to attack the pope have been shrugged off by the Vatican, but security has nonetheless been increased for his Wednesday and Sunday audiences, the paper said.

The Repubblica daily said plain clothes special operations officers with sniffer dogs trained in seeking out explosives were helping Vatican police vet tourists, while hotels in the area were also being kept under surveillance.

The news came a day before Francis's trip to Albania, where the pontiff is expected to mingle with the crowds as usual despite reports of possible danger from new IS recruits returning from the Middle East to the mostly-Muslim country.

Some worry the pope has made himself a target by speaking out against the Islamic State group and having the Holy See voice support for US air strikes in Iraq.

In an interview with Italy's La Nazione daily this week, Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Habib Al Sadr, said "what has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear. They want to kill the pope. The threats against the pope are credible."

The Vatican played down the warning, saying security measures for the trip would remain unchanged.
 

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HEALTH

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy’s Easter Sunday message

Pope Francis proclaimed vaccines an "essential tool" in ending the pandemic in his Easter Sunday address and urged their swift rollout to the world's poorest countries.

Pope calls for a quicker vaccine rollout in Italy's Easter Sunday message
Pope Francis delivers his Urbi et Orbi Blessing, after celebrating Easter Mass on April 04, 2021 at St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

On the holiest holiday for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics and the second under the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, the Pope focused his message on the world’s most vulnerable – the sick, migrants, people facing economic hardship, and those living in war zones like Syria, Yemen and Libya.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor,” the 84-year-old Argentine said, speaking to a congregation of only around 100 people inside the vast St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight,” he said, calling on the international community to overcome delays in distributing vaccines, “especially in the poorest countries”.

READ ALSO: Children lead the way in Italy’s reduced Good Friday service

Francis, who has focused on the plight of vulnerable groups since becoming pope in 2013, had already warned rich nations against vaccine hoarding in an address to the UN General Assembly in September.

The pope said it was “scandalous” that armed conflicts around the world had not ceased. He called for an end to the war in Syria, “where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions”, and in Yemen “whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican, after the Pope’s Easter Mass and Urbi et Orbi blessing during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

He also expressed his closeness to Myanmar’s youth – “committed to supporting democracy” – called for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and urged an end to violence in Africa, citing Nigeria, the Sahel, Northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world,” Francis said, adding that April 4th marked an awareness day against landmines, “insidious and horrible devices”.

An Easter message in Lockdown before a key month in Italy

The Pope’s Easter “Urbi et Orbi” (To the city and the world) message in the Vatican came as 60 million Italians spent the Easter holiday under lockdown.

The whole of Italy, the first country in Europe to have been hit by the coronavirus, has been declared a high-risk “red zone” from Saturday through Monday, with restrictions on movement and restaurants closed along with non-essential retail.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What can you do this Easter in lockdown Italy?

Despite the gloom, there have been hopeful signs that vaccinations are gaining pace in Italy, while infection rates dipped in late March – although emergency rooms remain under enormous strain.

April is set to be a crucial month for Italy’s vaccine rollout, with authorities hoping to administer 300,000 doses per day within two weeks, according to the country’s coronavirus commissioner, General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Three regions, including that of Veneto, which includes Venice, are also preparing to slightly loosen their anti-coronavirus rules from Tuesday onwards, passing from the most restrictive “red” zone to “orange”.

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