Pope calls for lasting peace in N.Ireland

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Pope Benedict XVI urged all parties involved in Northern Ireland to work for a "just and lasting peace" in his first speech of an historic state visit to Britain on Thursday.

"Your Majesty's government and the government of Ireland, together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland, have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there," the pope said as Queen Elizabeth II welcomed him to Edinburgh.

"I encourage everyone involved to continue to walk courageously on the path marked out for them towards a just and lasting peace," he said.

Northern Ireland's turbulent past, known as The Troubles, pitched Catholic republicans opposed to British rule against Protestants who favoured being governed from London. Around 3,500 people were killed.

The three decades of violence were largely ended by the 1998 "Good Friday" peace deal but sporadic unrest still flares in the province.

The queen also praised the Vatican for its role in ending the violence in Northern Ireland.

"In this country we deeply appreciate the involvement of the Holy See in the dramatic improvement of the situation in Northern Ireland," she said in her speech to the pope.

But passions remain high over the issue, with Protestant firebrand and former Northern Ireland first minister Ian Paisley planning to hold a protest in Edinburgh against the pope's visit.

The Free Presbyterian Church founder infamously denounced pope John Paul II as the antichrist and was thrown out of the chamber during the pontiff's 1988 speech to the European Parliament.

© 2010 AFP

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