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Sunday, December 26, 2004; Page A25

Pope's Christmas Wish Directed at War Zones

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II offered Christmas wishes Saturday for a world where he said timid but hopeful efforts at peace coexist with worries over Iraq, the Middle East and several tragic conflicts in Africa.

The pope, 84, turned out in a chilly, steady drizzle to keep his traditional appointment of reading holiday greetings in dozens of languages to a crowd of thousands of Romans and tourists in St. Peter's Square.

Children screamed in delight and adults cheered and hoisted their umbrellas in greeting as the pope was driven into the square in his white popemobile, whose top was covered with see-through plastic to protect him from the rain.

"With great apprehension, I follow the situation in Iraq. And how can I fail to look with anxious concern, but also with invincible confidence, toward that land of which you are a son?" the pontiff said in reference to Israel and the Palestinian territories.


KHARTOUM, Sudan -- The Sudanese government and the country's main southern rebel group will sign a peace agreement Jan. 10 in Kenya to end more than 20 years of civil war, a senior government official said.

The government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army had pledged to finalize an agreement to end Africa's longest-running war by Dec. 31, making a commitment last month before the U.N. Security Council, which held a rare meeting in Nairobi to spur peace talks.

The north-south war has pitted Sudan's Muslim-dominated government against rebels in the Christian and animist south seeking greater autonomy and more of the country's wealth. The conflict is blamed for more than 2 million deaths, primarily from famine and disease caused by the war.

The middle east

JERUSALEM -- Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower, was freed by Israeli police hours after he was detained for trying to enter the West Bank to attend Christmas Eve ceremonies in Bethlehem, a police spokesman said.

Vanunu, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was freed from an Israeli prison in April after completing an 18-year sentence for revealing secrets of Israel's nuclear program.

Under the terms of his release, he was barred from leaving Israeli territory and contacting foreigners.


KABUL, Afghanistan -- The runner-up to Hamid Karzai in historic presidential elections congratulated the Afghan leader on the formation of his cabinet and said he was in the process of forming an opposition political party.

Yonus Qanooni said that he had deep respect for the cabinet ministers and for Karzai, but that he felt he could best serve the nation by becoming a leading opposition figure. He said the party would be called New Afghanistan and would be created in the coming weeks.

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A French urban climber who calls himself Spiderman climbed to the top of the world's tallest building, known as Taipei 101.

Alain Robert, 42, took almost four hours to reach the top of the 1,679-foot building. The climb took nearly twice as long as he had expected, partly because of dreary weather.

-- From News Services

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