Iraq's Aziz Joins Peace Prayers in Italy
Feb. 15, 2003
ASSISI, Italy (AP) _ Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz issued a plea for peace Saturday after warning Europe against supporting a U.S.-led attack on Iraq, urging the world to ``resist war and the intentions of aggression.''
Aziz made the plea in the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi, where he participated in a series of peace prayers with Franciscan friars on a day when demonstrations took place around the globe to protest a possible war.
``My message is peace,'' Aziz said outside the Basilica of St. Francis after the prayer. ``The people of Iraq want peace. And millions of people around the world are demonstrating for peace, so let us all work for peace and resist the war and the intentions of aggression.''
The Rev. Enzo Fortunato, a spokesman for the Franciscans, said Aziz's visit to the tomb of St. Francis _ the medieval monk known for his message of peace _ was important because ``the world needs images of peace to conquer the images of war.''
When asked whether Aziz might use the visit for political purposes, Fortunato replied: ``Whoever comes to Assisi can call himself a man of peace, but he is called to realize, with concrete gestures, that which he proclaims.''
Aziz, a Chaldean Christian, insisted after meeting with Pope John Paul II on Friday that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and, after the latest report from U.N. weapons inspectors, promised greater cooperation with arms searches.
At a press conference Friday, Aziz warned Europeans against supporting Washington in any war against Iraq, saying the impact would be felt across the Arab world.
``When anything happens in Europe, it affects us in the Middle East, in the Arab world,'' he said. ``Therefore, the Europeans should be very careful when they say 'we support George Bush' because they encourage him to do mischief, to make aggression. They should not.''
During a sometimes tense press conference at the Foreign Press Association, Aziz also refused to answer a question by an Israeli journalist about whether Iraq would target Israel during a war.
Aziz responded: ``When I came to this press conference it was not in my agenda to answer questions by the Israeli media. Sorry.''
Some journalists in the packed room of the association's headquarters whistled and booed at that reply, and one later asked the same question.
To that question Aziz replied: ``We don't have the means to attack anyone outside our territory.''
On Saturday, Aziz took part in a simple ceremony at the tomb of St. Francis, an intimate, stone chapel decorated with fragrant lilies underneath the lower basilica of the main church.
Assisi has long been associated with St. Francis' message of peace, and the pope last year held a daylong, inter-religious peace prayer service in Assisi in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In the ceremony, Aziz joined the clergy in two symbolic gestures: holding an oil peace lamp and being shown an ivory horn that was presented to St. Francis in 1219 by the then-sultan of Egypt, Melek el-Kamel.
The lantern was the same one used by participants in the pope's peace day and recalled his message urging all believers to be ``lights of peace,'' while the horn is a symbol of friendship between peoples, the Franciscans said.
Aziz also signed a book on the altar that the Franciscans said was a commitment to peace, writing: ``May God the Almighty grant peace to the people of Iraq and the whole world. Amen.''
Those gathered then read a prayer issued by John Paul last year in Assisi: ``Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God's name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love.''
On Friday, Aziz met for about 30 minutes with the pope, one of the most outspoken opponents to any new war against Iraq.
On Saturday, the pope's envoy to Iraq, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, met with President Saddam Hussein, the Vatican said. The Vatican has urged Iraq to show ``concrete commitments'' to disarm.
The pope and Vatican officials have said a war would have no legal or moral justification and could unleash Muslim anger against Christians.
Aziz is to leave Italy on Sunday.