Pope calls for lowering of tensions in eastern Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds a weekly general audience in the library of the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, April 14, 2021. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, delivering his Sunday address to a live audience for the first time in more than a month, called for a lowering of tensions in eastern Ukraine and expressed anxiety over a military buildup.

"Please! I strongly hope that an increase in tension can be avoided. On the contrary, there is a need for gestures that can promote reciprocal trust and foster reconciliation and peace, both so necessary and so desired," the pope said.

Tensions between Moscow and Kyiv have been rising amid a build-up of Russian troops along the border and clashes in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Russian separatists.

Francis, speaking to several hundred people in St. Peter's Square from a window in the Apostolic Palace, said he was following the increased military activity with anxiety and decried violations of a ceasefire agreement in the last few months.

It was the first time since March 14 that the blessing and address were delivered from the window instead of being streamed from the papal library.

COVID-19 restrictions in Italy were eased after Easter and Francis expressed pleasure at being to address people directly again.

"Thank God that we can meet together again in this square. I tell you something - I miss the square. When I have to do the (address) from the library, I am not happy. Thank God and thank you for your presence," the pope said.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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