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Pope Benedict XVI visits earthquake area

January 5, 2009 - ITALY

Pope Benedict XVI plans to tour the Abruzzo area, the site of a devastating earthquake on Apr 6 that so far has claimed some 300 lives. It isn't known if he will hold a memorial mass for the victims during his visit. Meanwhile, families living in the tent cities set up around L'Aquila have sought to return to a semblance of normality. Classes for children have been set up in temporary canvas schools in the tent city for the victims who have lost their homes.

The Pope, who is preparing for his trip to the Holy Land starting on 8 May, celebrated his 82nd birthday on Apr 16, and will mark the fourth anniversary of his election as pontiff in succession to John Paul II. Mariastella Gelmini, the Education Minister, said returning to classes would help children overcome the trauma of having lost friends or relatives. Guido Bertolaso, head of the Civil Protection agency, said an estimated 20,000 people of the 50,000 people displaced would never be able to return to their homes because they were too badly damaged. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has vowed that the tent cities will close by the winter, with all evacuees rehoused. The cabinet is expected to pass emergency measures to help people affected by the earthquake, and promises to launch a reconstruction plan. Apr/09

NATO doubts Russian military action on exercises (Reuters 16 Apr 2009)

Date written/update: 2009-01-05