Pope's sorrow at Iraq "slaughter"

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The Pope has used his traditional Easter message to express concern about the "continual slaughter" in Iraq and to draw attention to various other troubles across the world.

Addressing crowds in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI lamented "how much suffering there is in the world", referring both to current unrest in the Middle East and to the plight of those living in many African nations which have been blighted by violence in recent weeks.

"In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestine Authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees,'' the 79-year-old pontiff told the thousands gathered to hear his annual Urbi et Orbi message in the Vatican.

As well as drawing attention to the "growing unrest and instability" in Afghanistan, where coalition forces continue to battle the resurgent Taliban, the Pope condemned the "catastrophic" and "underestimated" humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region and expressed sorrow at the "grievous crisis" in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe's repressive regime has recently subjected political dissidents to violent crackdowns.

Condemning a "thousand faces of violence" employed by those who try to justify their actions in the name of religion, Pope Benedict also lamented the existence of terrorism and the "contempt for life" shown by those who violated the human rights of others.

"Peace is sorely needed," said the pontiff, who delivered Easter greetings in 62 different languages.

Pope Benedict turns 80 on April 16th and will then mark the second anniversary of his election as head of the Catholic church three days later.

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