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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 12:32 GMT 13:32 UK
Pope 'would understand' use of force
The Pope celebrates mass in Astana, Kazakhstan
The pope has appealed for Christian Muslim unity
Pope John Paul II would understand if the United States resorted to force to defend its citizens from further attacks, a papal spokesman says.

If someone has done great harm to society and there is a danger that if he remains free he may be able to do it again, you have the right to apply self-defence

Papal spokesman
Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Reuters news agency that the Vatican would prefer a non-violent solution to the crisis following the attacks in New York and Washington earlier this month.

But he said the use of violence could be morally justified.

He was speaking during the Pope's current visit to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

Self-defence justified

"If someone has done great harm to society and there is a danger that if he remains free he may be able to do it again, you have the right to apply self-defence for the society which you lead even though the means you may choose may be aggressive," the papal spokesman was quoted as saying.

Astana mass
Over 20,000 attended Sunday mass

"Sometimes self-defence implies an action which may lead to the death of a person.

"Either people who have carried out a horrendous crime are put in a position where they can do no further harm, by being handed over and put into custody, or the principle of self-defence applies with all its consequences," the spokesman said.

The Pope's visit to multi-ethnic and multi-religious Kazakhstan has taken on a new significance since the attacks on the US.

Kazakhstan borders on several other central Asian countries which could be caught up in any military action against Afghanistan.

Peaceful negotiation

The Pope has also used his visit to call for harmony between Christians and Muslims.

The pope speaking from a tent in traditional Kazakh style
"I call on all Christians and non-Christians to love each other, this is the main theme of my visit," he told thousands of people, including many Muslims, at an open-air mass in the capital Astana on Sunday.

The pontiff himself has made no direct reference to the crisis, but has called for peaceful negotiation to settle conflicts.

The 300,000-strong Catholic population of Kazakhstan is tiny compared to the country's six million Russian Orthodox Christians or the eight million-strong Muslim community.

The Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, thanked the Pope for making the trip despite his frail health and the tension over Afghanistan, which had raised fears about his security.

"Today like no other there is a need for dialogue between the Muslim and Christian world," the president said.

He told journalists covering the Pope's visit that Kazakhstan would grant logistical help to the United States when and if they carry out military operations in Afghanistan, but so far, he had received no such request.

The president aligned himself firmly with the coalition backing America's battle against international terrorism. But he said Kazakhstan had to tread carefully because of what he called the growing power of militant groups in the country.

On the last full day of his visit to Kazakhstan, the Pope said mass at a newly built Catholic cathedral in the capital.

In his homily, the pontiff stressed that the Roman Catholic Church has no wish to impose its faith on others.

His comment was seen as an answer to criticism of his trip from the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow.

The Pope was also expected to make another statement stressing the Catholic Church's respect for authentic Islam, not the Islam that supports terrorism, before leaving Kazakhstan on Tuesday for a visit to Armenia.

The BBC's David Willey reports
"The Pope's mind is not centred on this [terrorist] issue"
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Americas
Q&A: Military options
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
30 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
15 Apr 01 | Media reports
New bell for Kazakhstan
19 Apr 01 | South Asia
Kazakhstan ready to host Afghan talks
22 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Kazakhstan
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