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npr news on 12.26

From NPR news in Washington, I'm Carl Kasell.

Pope Benedict delivered his traditional Christmas speech to the world today, and the Pope called for solutions to conflicts across the globe. He especially mentioned the Middle East with as many grave crises and conflicts. The Pontiff said he hopes for a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Pope also mentioned violence in Lebanon, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Darfar and the whole of Africa. His message came as Ethiopian fighter jets bombed airports in Somalia, and more people died in suicide bombings in Iraq. Benedict delivered Christmas greetings in dozens of languages including English.

In Iraq violence has made it difficult for Christians in Baghdad to celebrate Christmas. NPR's Joe Riddle reports.

The Virgin Mary church is a largest church in Baghdad, It is simply overflowing with catholics on Christmas, but today it's half empty. The street of seats on was cordoned off. Extra guards were posted and a police general was in the audience. These are the latest security precautions the church is taking in an atmosphere of increasing religious persecution. While generally regarded as benign by most Muslims, Sunni and Shiite extremists have targeted at Christian of all stripes. This year at least 8 Priests have been kidnapped, 2 of them tortured. Christians and other religious minorities have fled their homes. Some assessments say that three out of every four Christians from the southern province of Basra have now left for the Kurdish North, Syria or Jordan. Joe Riddle NPR news, Baghdad.

The conflict in Somalia has intensified. Aircraft from neighboring Ethiopia today bombed the international airport in the Somalia capital. Somalia's Ethiopia-backed transitional government later announced that it had closed all land, air and sea borders. NPR's Ofiba Christ reports.
It is hard to see how Somalia’s beleaguered interim government which only just controls Baidoa, its provincial base in the south can order all the country's borders closed. Backed by neighboring Ethiopia, the transitional government is effectively encircled by Islamist fighters who are backing loyalist forces. Ethiopia formally waded into the conflict Sunday with fighter planes and attack helicopters acknowledging for the first time that it had combat troops on the ground in Somalia. At dawn, Ethiopia aircraft bombed the international airport in the heart of the Somalia capital Mogadishu, a city controlled by the Islamists. This was evidence that Ethiopia is making good on its pledge to hit Islamists positions in Somalia, justifying its attacks as legitimate self-defense. Ofiba Christiansen, NPR news, Dacca.

James Brown, the godfather of Soul has died. He was 73. His agent says James Brown died earlier today at hospital in Atlantic after being admitted yesterday with severe pneumonia. Along with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and a few others, Brown was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years.

This is NPW news.

In Canada, retired passport office workers are being brought back to work to help clear \ backlog. New US regulations are blamed for the logjam. Richard Remold reports form Toronto.

Canadians have always been allowed to enter the US without a passport. A driver's license and a birth certificate\ were all those required, but new regulations which take effect in January 23rd mean that Canadian citizens flying to the US must have a passport. This is usually a busy time of the year for the Canadian Passport Office, but applications are running almost double the rate they were last year at this time. People have been lining up as early as 5 AM at some offices to have their applications reviewed by an examiner. Compounding the effect of the new regulations is the fact that many passports issued just after 9.11, when there was a surge of applications, are now expiring and need to be renewed. Canadians crossing by car will have\\ until 2008 to get their passports. For NPR news, I'm Richard Remold in Toronto.

The Roman Catholic Church’s highest official in the Holy land celebrated midnight Mass in Bethlehem and appealed for an end to Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah made the remarks during his summitry to hundreds of worshippers. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attended the service and was escorted to the service by a large security detail to a front row seat. Earlier thousands of people were joined by marching bands clergymen and children dressed as Santa Claus. Most were local residents or Christian-Arabs from neighboring Israel. There was sparkling of foreign tourists. Bethlehem's tourist industry has been hard hit by the last six years of Israelis-Palestinian violence.

I'm Carl Kasell NPR news in Washington.

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