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Bush, Pope Hold First Meeting at Vatican


President Bush held talks with Pope Benedict at the Vatican Saturday as part of his visit to Rome.

The U.S. president's audience with the pontiff was his first since the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005. Pope Benedict asked Mr. Bush about the outcome of the recent G8 summit, including discussions on Africa and HIV/AIDS relief efforts.

In private talks, the two men were also expected to discuss the war in Iraq, which was strongly opposed by Benedict's predecessor, the late John Paul II.

Mr. Bush and his wife Laura began the day with a brief visit with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano at his official residence.

Mr. Bush will meet with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi later Saturday for talks expected to focus on Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, the Balkans and Kosovo.

Thousands of security officers are on duty in the Italian capital in advance of expected anti-Bush demonstrations.

Trainloads of people from across Italy are arriving in Rome for a protest against the continuing presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and Italy's troop deployment in Afghanistan.

Authorities had to reschedule Mr. Bush's meeting with a prominent Catholic lay organization due to logistical concerns. He was originally set to meet with members of the Sant'Egidio Community at the city's Trastevere district, but it was moved to the U.S. embassy.

Mr. Bush flies to Albania Sunday to meet with officials in the capital, Tirana, then travel to Bulgaria for meetings Monday before returning to Washington.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.