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Pope Francis calls for healing in split Cyprus, Orthodox archbishop attacks Turkey

Pope Francis called on Friday for healing during an outdoor Mass in Cyprus within sight of a huge Turkish Cypriot flag on a mountainside on the other side of a line that has divided the island for nearly half a century.

Francis began his first full day in Cyprus at a meeting with leaders of the Orthodox Church, the biggest Christian community on the island. There, Francis again expressed a desire for eventual unity between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity, which have been split since 1054.

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There are only 38,000 Catholics on the island, making up about 4.7 percent of the population and for many the Mass at the stadium was the highlight of the pope’s two-day visit.

Many of the 10,000 worshippers were Filipinos who work in Cyprus, mostly as housekeepers. The Philippines is Asia’s largest Catholic country.

The pope wove his homily around the theme of healing and shared pain – topics that touch a chord with all Cypriots on an island that has been split in two since a 1974 Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.

“Healing takes place when we carry our pain together, when we face our problems together, when we listen and speak to one another,” Francis said.

Countless mediation attempts on Cyprus have failed and the peace process stalled in 2017 when talks collapsed. Tens of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots remain internally displaced.

The huge Turkish Cypriot flag painted into the mountainside, which is lit up at night, is a constant reminder of division.

Archbishop raps turkey

Francis is visiting only the south of the island, controlled by the internationally-recognized Cypriot government. A Turkish Cypriot breakaway state in northern Cyprus is recognized only by Ankara.

Shortly after the pope arrived on Thursday, the leader of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus invited Francis “with my most sincere feelings” to visit his side of the island too.

“It is my hope and expectation that Pope Francis responds positively to our invitation and treats all believers on an equal basis, as he has repeatedly stated,” Ersin Tatar said in a statement.

At his meeting with the pope, Cyprus’ Orthodox Archbishop Chrysostomos II attacked Turkey.

Many Christian places of worship were converted to mosques, priceless icons and relics smuggled abroad, and place-names changed in the aftermath of the conflict.

“Not only did they imitate the blood-thirsty Attila, but they exceeded him,” Chrysostomos told Francis, referring to a fifth century ruler of the Huns and an enemy of Christianity.

“In this holy and just struggle … we would like your active support,” Chrysostomos said.

Francis called for the restitution of sacred objects to their legitimate owners in a speech on Thursday.

The Vatican’s own relations with mainly Muslim Turkey, which the pope visited in 2014, have sometimes been difficult.

Last year, the pope said he was deeply pained by Turkey’s decision to make a mosque of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum, which was once a Christian cathedral.

In 2015, the pope angered Turkey when he said the killing of up to 1.5 million Armenians in World War One was “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

Turkey, which denies accusations of genocide, recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest.

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Ukrainian court sentences Russian soldier to life in prison for killing civilian

A Ukrainian court sentenced a Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing an unarmed civilian in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia’s February 24 invasion.

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Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old tank commander, had pleaded guilty to killing the 62-year-old man in the northeastern Ukrainian village of Chupakhivka on February 28 after being ordered to shoot at him from a car.

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Saudia airline announces commercial flights to Saudi megacity project NEOM

Saudia airline has announced that it will launch weekly flights from NEOM Bay Airport to Dubai in late June, and plans a direct route to London.

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The airport represents a “vital artery” for visitors traveling to the planned city, NEOM CEO Nazmi al-Nasr said in a statement.

NEOM is situated in the northwestern corner of the Kingdom, around 1,500 kilometers from Riyadh.

Saudia operated its first-ever flights from capital Riyadh to the NEOM site in January of 2019.

The under-construction megacity currently employs 1,500 people including local and international experts from more than 65 countries.

The project was announced in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of his Vision 2030 plan to diversify the economy away from oil.

It is part of a raft of developments in the Kingdom including the Red Sea Project, which is due to welcome its first tourists in 2023.

The project is intended to boost tourism both domestically and internationally, as well as real estate sales.

In January 2021 the Crown Prince announced that a 170 kilometer long belt of communities would be built in NEOM.

‘The Line,’ as it will be known, is slated to be a zero-carbon system with no roads or cars.

Commuters are instead expected to use high-speed transit systems, which reportedly will take no more than 20 minutes to ferry people from one end of the city to the other.

Promotional material for NEOM also touts it as a low-carbon sustainable city, the layout of which emphasizes physical exercise.

The project’s sports director Neil Coupland said in an interview with Al Arabiya English that those behind the project intend it to be the “most active place on the planet,” with three-quarters of the population exercising at least three hours a week.

Out of the planned megaprojects in the Kingdom, NEOM was the most popular choice for homebuyers, according to a Knight Frank survey of 1003 households and 55 high net worth individuals.

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Abdulrahman makes return to UAE squad for World Cup playoff

Former Asian player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman has been recalled to the United Arab Emirates national team for the first time in two-and-a-half years as the country prepares for their World Cup playoff against Australia next month.

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Abdulrahman, who was named the continent’s best player in 2016, was included in coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s 30-man squad for the game against the Socceroos on June 7 in Doha after a return to form for club side Shabab al-Ahli.

The 30-year-old lost his place in the national team as a string of injuries, including a cruciate ligament rupture in 2018 while on loan with Saudi Arabia’s al-Hilal, took their toll on the creative midfielder.

He last played for the UAE in the 1-0 loss in World Cup qualifying to Vietnam in November 2019 but has impressed in recent months, including leading Shabab al-Ahli into the knockout rounds of this year’s Asian Champions League.

“I am 100 per cent ready because (reaching the World Cup) is everybody’s dream, it is the dream of UAE,” Abdulrahman said last month when asked about a possible recall.

“I hope everyone stands together, not only the players, the technical staff and the administration team, but also the media, fans, and everyone during this time — because the two remaining matches can lead us to the World Cup finals.

“Of course, the first play-off against Australia will be difficult for sure, but with solidarity, we will be able to make the UAE fans happy.”

The UAE will be looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since making their debut appearance at the tournament in Italy in 1990.

Arruabarrena’s side will take on the Australians after the nations finished third in their respective groups in the third round of Asia’s preliminaries.

The winner of the meeting at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium will advance to an intercontinental playoff on June 13 against Peru with a place in November’s finals at stake.

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