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Pope Laments 'Murder' of Missing Mexican Students

Pope Francis leads his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Nov. 12, 2014.

Pope Francis on Wednesday expressed his sorrow at what he said is clearly the murder of 43 missing Mexican students, though the government has yet to officially declare them dead after their abduction and apparent massacre in the southwest of the country in late September.

Mexico's government has said evidence suggests the 43 trainee teachers were handed over by corrupt police to members of a local drug gang who then incinerated them, but it has yet to confirm the deaths for lack of definitive proof.

The case has plunged President Enrique Pena Nieto's government into its biggest crisis and sparked huge protests. On Saturday night, some demonstrators set fire to the door of the ceremonial presidential palace in central Mexico City.

"I'd like somehow to say that I am with the Mexicans, those present and those at home, in this painful moment of what is legally speaking disappearance, but we know, the murder of the students," Francis said in his general audience in the Vatican.

The students were taken on the night of Sept. 26 after clashes with local police in the southwestern city of Iguala, whose mayor was arrested last week along with his wife as probable masterminds of the abduction.

The government said that the remains of the suspected victims were so badly burned that it is impossible to say when and if they will be definitively identified.