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Pope breaks silence on Tibet violence

world Updated: Mar 19, 2008 18:35 IST
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Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday expressed "sadness and pain in the face of so much suffering" in Tibet - his first reference to the clashes in the region over the last several days.

Earlier this week commentators in Italy and elsewhere had criticized the failure of the pontiff - particularly during his Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter's Square - to mention the violence.

But Benedict during his traditional Wednesday general audience at the Vatican said he had been "following with great trepidation the news coming these days from Tibet.

"Problems can not be solved through violence, but only made worse," he said.

"I invite you to join me in prayer asking God the omnipotent... to grant to all the courage to choose dialogue and tolerance," Benedict added.

Dozens are believed to have been killed in clashes between Chinese forces and Tibetan pro-independence demonstrators.

Responding to the criticism on Benedict's "silence" Church officials Tuesday said the pontiff would make his feelings known at an "opportune moment".

Some critics said they suspected the Vatican's perceived reluctance to speak out against the Chinese authorities stemmed from fears of jeopardizing steadily improving relations with Beijing.

The Vatican and China have been at odds since the 1950s when the Communist authorities set up the Patriotic Catholic Association and retained the right to appoint its bishops.

China's tiny Catholic minority, estimated to number between 8 to 12 million, is currently split between those who belong to the Patriotic Association and those who follow the "underground" church loyal to the pope.

Benedict has made improving ties with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate, and last year sent a letter to China's Catholics in which he called for dialogue with the Chinese authorities.

Since then Beijing has appointed at least two Vatican-approved bishops to the official church.