INTERNATIONAL

Pope's appeal for peace

VATICAN CITY DEC. 25 . Pope John Paul, in his Christmas message today, appealed to the world to avoid a conflict in Iraq.

The 82-year-old Pope made his appeal for peace in West Asia in his ``Urbi et Orbi'' (to the city and the world) message from a rainy St. Peter's Square. He also appealed to people not to allow the ``reality of terrorism'' to lead to mistrust and suspicion of others.

On West Asia, the Pope, resplendent in gold vestments and sitting to conserve his strength, said believers in all religions had a duty to be builders of peace.

The Polish Pope said people were called on ``in the West Asia, to extinguish the ominous smouldering of a conflict which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided.''

The remarks in the address to some 20,000 people gathered in the Square, were a clear reference to the Iraq crisis and the looming possibility of a U.S.-led war against the country.

The Vatican has been following the build-up to a possible military conflict with worry. Top Vatican diplomats said any action in Iraq should have the approval of the United Nations.

In his message, which was broadcast via live linkups with 50 countries, the Pope also spoke of terrorism and the fear that had been cast over a post-September 11 world.

``Christmas is a mystery of peace! From the cave of Bethlehem there rises today an urgent appeal to the world not to yield to mistrust, suspicion and discouragement, even though the tragic reality of terrorism feeds uncertainties and fears,'' he said.

Appearing weak at times as he spoke from under a canopy, he appealed for an end to strife between Israelis and Palestinians, saying builders of peace in the Holy Land were called, ``above all, to put an end to the senseless spiral of blind violence.''

The Pope, celebrating the 25th Christmas season of his pontificate, said the season's message was as valid today as it was 2,000 years ago.