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Europe

Pope faces protests as he meets British prime minister

Video by Kathryn STAPLEY

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-09-18

On the third day of his landmark visit to Britain, Pope Benedict met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior politicians. Security services are braced for a "Protest the Pope" march in central London later Saturday.

AFP - Pope Benedict XVI was to hold an open-air prayer vigil Saturday but also faced a demonstration from a rainbow coalition of protesters on the third day of his historic state visit to Britain.
   
British police continued to question six men arrested by counter-terrorism officiers on suspicion of plotting an attack linked to the visit, but the Vatican said it had "never attributed much importance to these arrests".
   
The men are street cleaners exployed to clean the Westminster borough of London, where the pope spent much of Friday. Reports said they were Algerian.
   
Police were searching private and business premises around London but no dangerous materials were found in initial searches.
   
The pope is "very calm" and "no one felt threatened" despite the arrests Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
   
"The pope and his aides have no concerns about security. We have complete confidence in the local police," he added.
   
The 83-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church started the third day of his state visit by meeting Prime Minister David Cameron and was set to lead a huge open-air prayer vigil in London's Hyde Park.
   
But a coalition including victims of abuse by Catholic priests, atheists, pro-abortionists, demonstrators calling for women priests and protesters angry at the cost of the visit were to demonstrate ahead of the vigil.
   
Organisers said they expected around 2,000 people to turn up at the "Protest the Pope" event, gathering near Hyde Park and then marching through central London for a rally outside the prime minister's Downing Street office.
   
It will be the first serious rally against the pope on the four-day trip -- the first ever papal state visit to Britain by royal invitation -- with only minor protests having taken place so far.
   
Security will remain tight for Benedict on Saturday, with police closing key roads in the capital along the route his popemobile will take, although police said the arrests had not changed their existing plans for the visit.
   
In addition to his prayer vigil, at which tens of thousands of people are expected, he also attended a service at the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral and was to address thousands of young people in the piazza outside.
   
Counter-terrorism police in London swooped at dawn on Friday to detain five men, aged between 26 and 50, "on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism", Scotland Yard said.
   
Benedict fulfilled his complete itinerary Friday despite the security alert, meeting Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the Church of England, at Westminster Abbey in a highly symbolic show of unity.
   
He also gave a speech Friday at the Houses of Parliament to an audience including four former British prime ministers, warning about the "marginalisation of religion" in largely secular Britain and further afield.
   
British media on Saturday said the pope's visit had gone well so far despite a run-up clouded by the paedophile priest scandal rocking the Church and by a Vatican aide's comments comparing Britain to a "Third World Country".
   
Many newspapers hailed him for his comments on religion, with the Times saying it was "turning into a remarkable success as the rift with Rome narrows" and others praising his remarks defending the celebration of Christmas.
   
Benedict is only the second pope -- after John Paul II -- to visit predominantly Anglican Britain since Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 over its failure to annul his marriage.

Date created : 2010-09-18

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