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Pope says religious freedom a basic right

BEIRUT: Pope XVI Benedict spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East.
"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the President Palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut. He held up Lebanon, which is still rebuilding from a devastating 1975-1990 civil war largely fought on sectarian lines, as an example of coexistence for the region.
He said Christians and Muslims in Lebanon share the same space — at times in the same family — and asked, "If it is possible in families why not in entire societies?" Marriages where husband and wife are from different religious groups are not uncommon in Lebanon. He said the freedom to practice one's religion "without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone."
A Syrian priest from Homs said yesterday the Archdiocese of Syriac Catholics in Hamidiyeh was torched this week. The motives behind the attack were unclear.
The priest told The Associated Press by telephone that the attack took place Thursday. He said residents tried for 14 hours to put out the raging fire because fire engines could not reach the area under rebel control. No further details were immediately available.
Enthusiastic crowds lined the streets in Lebanon and cheered along the 30-kilometer motorcade route to the palace as Benedict went by yesterday in the bullet-proof glass popemobile. Soldiers in horseback rode ahead of the car.
As the pope arrived in the presidential compound, officials released about 20 white doves.