Pope calls for halt to fighting over South Ossetia

BRESSANONE, Italy (Reuters) – Pope Benedict called on Sunday for an immediate halt to the fighting between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway South Ossetia region and urged world powers to help find a peaceful solution.

He expressed his “profound anguish” that the violence which erupted on Thursday had “already caused many innocent victims and forced a great number of civilians to leave their homes”.

Following a Georgian push to take control of the pro-Moscow enclave from separatists, Russia sent in troops and launched air strikes inside Georgia — a response which Washington has decried as “dangerous and disproportionate”.

Russia puts the death toll at 2,000 while Georgia has said that up to 300 of its people have died, mainly civilians.

“It is my dearest hope that military action will stop immediately and that they will abstain, in the name of their common Christian inheritance, from further clashes and violence,” said the pontiff in his Sunday Angelus address.

Most of the population of Georgia belongs to the Eastern Orthodox church.

“I invite the international community and the countries with most influence in the current situation to make every effort to support and promote initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution,” said Benedict in northern Italy, where he is on vacation.

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