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Pope condemns Mali hotel attack ahead of Africa visit

Soldiers at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali (AP)

Pope Francis has condemned the attack by extremists in a Mali hotel that killed at least 19 people as he prepares to visit three African nations.

The Vatican secretary of state said in a telegram on Sunday to the Archbishop of Bamoko, Mgr Jean Zerbo, that the Pope “is appalled by this senseless violence,” which he “strongly condemns”.

The Pope leaves on Wednesday for a six-day trip to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic. During his weekly Angelus blessing, he asked the faithful in St Peter’s Square to pray for “peace and prosperity” in these countries.

Due to security concerns, the Pope’s chief bodyguard is doing an unusual last-minute visit to conflict-wrecked Central African Republic.

Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican is going ahead with the Pope’s busy programme in the capital city Bangui, which includes a visit to the main mosque, attending an inter-faith meeting with Catholic, Evangelical and Muslim representatives, celebrating Mass and going to an evening prayer vigil. He added the Paris attacks hadn’t changed the itinerary.

Nevertheless, Francis’s bodyguard, Domenico Giani, is leaving early for Bangui to survey the security situation, and will only join the papal delegation once the Pope arrives in Nairobi on Wednesday for the start of the visit, Fr Lombardi said.

“We’re following the situation, and will take decisions that can be necessary if there’s something unforeseen or unusual,” Fr Lombardi said. “But we’re going ahead with the plan, which includes the Central African Republic.”

He said the Pope firmly believes that he can contribute to the pacification of the country, and encourage dialogue between Christians and Muslims, “with his presence, his words and his prayers.”