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Argentina's debts, poverty on menu as Pope welcomes leader

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Vatican City (AFP)

Pope Francis on Friday received Argentina's new President Alberto Fernandez to the Vatican with his compatriot keen to address poverty and Buenos Aires' debts during private talks.

"Your Holiness, what a pleasure to see you," said Fernandez on entering the Argentinian pontiff's private library at the Apostolic Palace at the Holy See.

"Welcome", responded the pope, gesturing for him to enter and jokingly referring to his guest, making his first European tour since his election in December, as "altar boy".

The pair, who have known each other for many years, chatted animatedly for three quarters of an hour as they addressed a range of social and political issues including how to help Argentina address its foreign debt mountain, a priority of the Fernandez administration.

Having inherited an economic crisis that began 18 months ago with a currency collapse, centre leftist Fernandez is aiming to renegotiate repayments of $44 billion borrowed from the International Monetary Fund.

The sum is a sizeable part of Argentina's $335 billion external debt, which amounts to over 90 percent of its GDP while the country is also tackling around 40 percent poverty.

"They examined the country's situation, with particular reference to problems relating to the financial crisis, the fight against poverty, corruption, drugs trafficking, social mobility and the protection of life from conception," read a Vatican statement.

"The pope is going to do what he can to help us," said Fernandez. "He is an Argentinian concerned about his country and its people. Debt brought poverty to society," he added.

As well as its debt and poverty woes, Argentina is battling one of the world's highest rates of inflation, topping 53 percent last year.

The Vatican will next week host a meeting on debt restructuring which will be attended among others by International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva and Argentinian Finance Minister Martin Guzman.

Fernandez, who said he shared with the pontiff an "obsession to unite Argentinians," said one issue he did not discuss with Francis was abortion -- an issue the former supports.

The Argentine leader will over the weekend continue his tour with visits to Italy, Germany, Spain and France.

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