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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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North Korea defends close ties with Russia against South Korean criticism at UN

North Korea on Monday slammed South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for criticising its cooperation with Moscow following leader Kim Jong Un’s Russia visit, saying it is “natural” and “normal” for neighbors to keep close relations.

Yoon, speaking at the UN General Assembly last week, said that if Russia helped North Korea enhance its weapons programs in return for assistance for its war in Ukraine, it would be “a direct provocation.”

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In a piece carried by KCNA news agency, the North denounced Yoon for “malignantly” slandering its friendly cooperation with Russia, and said Yoon was serving as a “loudspeaker” for the United States.

“It is quite natural and normal for neighboring countries to keep close relations with each other, and there is no reason to call such practice to account,” it said.

Kim returned home last week from a week-long trip to Russia in which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to boost military and economic cooperation.

US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that Russia could be trying to acquire ammunition from the North to supplement its dwindling stocks for the war in Ukraine while Pyongyang seeks technological help for its nuclear and missile programs.

Any activities assisting North Korea’s weapons programs are banned under UN Security Council resolutions.

“The foreign policy of the DPRK … will not be tied to anything, and its friendly and cooperative relations with the close neighbors will continue to grow stronger,” the commentary said. DPRK is the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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Niger military leaders welcome news of French army withdrawal

Niger’s military rulers on Sunday welcomed the announcement that France will pull its troops out of the country by the end of the year as “a new step towards sovereignty.”

The statement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron announced that Paris would soon withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by its military contingent in the coming months.

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“This Sunday, we celebrate a new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” said a statement from the country’s military rulers, who seized power in late July by overthrowing President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26.

“The French troops and the ambassador of France will leave Nigerien soil by the end of the year.”

The statement, read out on national television, added: “This is a historic moment, which speaks to the determination and will of the Nigerien people.”

Earlier Sunday, before Macron’s announcement, the body regulating aviation safety in Africa (ASECNA), announced that Niger’s military rulers had banned “French aircraft” from flying over the country’s airspace.

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Russian air defense thwarts drone attack near Moscow’s Tula region

Russia’s air defense systems were engaged in repelling a drone attack over the Tula region that borders Moscow’s region to its north, Russia’s RIA news agency reported early Monday.

Citing the ministry of regional security, the agency reported that according to preliminary information, there was no damage or injuries as a result of the attack.

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Two of Moscow’s major airports, however, the Vnukovo and Domedovo, limited air traffic, directing flights to other airports, the TASS state news agency reported.

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