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Pilgrims flock to see the Pope's final farewell
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-09 06:26

The funeral of Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday last week at the age of 84, was held on Friday in Vatican City.

About 200 top politicians and royals from around the world attended the funeral, while huge crowds of pilgrims filled the streets of Rome to pay their last respects.

Two Italian jet fighters took off from an airbase and intercepted a suspect plane on Friday, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The news agency quoted Italy's air force chief as saying that intelligence information indicated a bomb was on board the aircraft which was heading toward Rome's second airport Ciampino.

The suspect aircraft landed at a military base near Rome. The airport has been closed to commercial traffic.

Anti-aircraft rocket launchers are in place around Rome, and a navy warship armed with torpedoes is patrolling the coastline near the capital, as Italian authorities stepped up security measures with almost 20,000 police and volunteers ahead of the funeral.

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni said the city had outdone itself in coping with the largest mass gathering ever.

Controversial visa

Beijing has expressed "strong dissatisfaction" about the Vatican and Italy's granting of a visa to Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian and have not sent a delegation to the Pope's funeral.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang made the statement on Friday in Beijing.

"We have expressed condolences over the Pope's passing, but we will not send a delegation to the funeral considering the present situation," Qin said. "Italy should proceed from the overall situation of the Sino-Italian relationship and take measures to prevent anything similar happening in the future."

China hopes the Vatican will take "real action" to create conditions to improve the relationship, instead of setting new obstacles for it, said Qin.

The spokesman said Chen's aim was not to mourn the Pope's death but to "play politics and take the opportunity to engage in secessionist activities to create 'two Chinas,' or 'one China and one Taiwan'."

"This is what China firmly opposes," he said.

China has followed the two principles in dealing with the relationship with the Vatican, Qin said. The two principles require the Vatican to terminate "diplomatic relations" with China's Taiwan and to promise that it will not interfere in China's internal affairs, including any intervention under the pretext of religious affairs.

Pope John Paul II, born in Poland, was ordained as a priest in 1946. He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1967. In October 1978, he was elected Pope, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

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