Pope in plea to Nigeria

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The Independent Online
ONITSHA, Nigeria (AP) - Braving sweltering heat, Pope John Paul II issued a powerful call yesterday for change in Nigeria, telling Nigerians to rid their society of "everything that offends human dignity or violates human rights".

Hundreds of thousands turned out for the Papal Mass in the country's Roman Catholic heartland. Since arriving on Saturday for a three-day visit, the Pope has surprised many here with the directness of his message to the military regime.

People urged the Pope to help free Nigeria from the shackles of the junta. Noting the generals' promise to hold elections later this year, the Pope said "there was no place" for abuse of power, misuse of authority, or arbitrarily excluding individuals from politics.

Vatican officials pressed for the release of some 60 political opponents and journalists - hoping the government would show some leniency, as happened in Cuba, where Fidel Castro released 299 prisoners after the Pontiff's January visit.