Benedict meets with Bush over Iraq

ROME - US president George Bush and Pope Benedict XVI met for the first time at the weekend.

ROME - US president George Bush and Pope Benedict XVI met for the first time at the weekend.

At the meeting the pontiff expressed his concern about the treatment of minority Christians in Iraq.

Speaking to reporters, Bush said the pope had raised this concern. The president said he had reminded the pope of the US's commitment to spend more on Aids in Africa and US attempts to "feed the hungry".

But he said that Iraq had dominated their discussion.

On Saturday protesters turned out for anti-Bush marches, some of which turned violent. Protesters in Rome threw beer bottles and rocks at the police who fired tear gas to break up the demonstration.

When the pope was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he made a much-quoted remark dismissing the idea of Iraq as a "just war" - a topic Bush said had not come up during their meeting.

"We didn't talk about just war. But he did say he was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion.

"I assured him we're working hard to make sure that people lived up to the constitution," Bush said.

The Vatican apparently did not go as far as his predecessor, who in 2004 urged Bush to end the "grave unrest" in Iraq.

A Vatican statement said both the pope and his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who also met Bush, raised the "Israeli-Palestinian and Lebanon" questions. - New York Times

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