Terrorism arrests fail to halt Papal tour

POPE BENEDICT last night insisted his tour of Britain would continue as planned despite the discovery of a suspected terror plot to attack him.

Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Command arrested six men after receiving an tip-off they posed a direct threat to the Pope.

Five of the men were arrested in dawn raids and worked for a street cleaning company contracted to Westminster City Council — the area of central London where the Pope is holding key events. A sixth man was arrested later.

The men, aged between 26-50 and believed to have North African connections, were held on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

The depot where they worked is less than a mile from Hyde Park where the Pope is due to hold a prayer vigil this evening.

Westminster City Council said the men worked for Veolia Environmental Services, a contractor which employs 650 on-street staff to keep Westminster’s streets clean.

Pope Benedict XVI’s security arrangements were reviewed following the arrests and Scotland Yard said: “We are satisfied that our current policing plan remains appropriate. The itinerary has not changed.”

Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi said the Pontiff was aware of the situation.

“The Pope is calm and happy and we go on with this trip with courage and joy,” he said.

The dramatic events overshadowed the most political day of the Pope’s four-day visit in which he addressed 2,000 of Britain’s most influential figures in the Palace of Westminster. He used the address to warn that religion was being “marginalised” out of political debate and that social consensus alone could not be left to decide policies — and he expressed fears even the celebration of Christmas was at risk.

Pope Benedict used the global financial meltdown as an example of what happened when pragmatic solutions were applied in the absence of ethical considerations. The speech — delivered in the historic Westminster Hall where Saint Thomas More was tried and convicted for refusing to recognise Henry VIII as head of the Church — outlined the Pope’s fear of secular influences.

The Pope said: “The world of reason and the world of faith — the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief — need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation. Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation.

He added: “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance,” he said in a clear reference to Britain.

Small groups of demonstrators protesting the Catholic Church’s handling of child abuse were among those lining the route.

Speculation was mounting that the Pontiff may privately meet some victims of clerical sex abuse before the Hyde Park vigil.

Earlier, he told thousands of schoolchildren in West London they should shun the cult of celebrity and honour God instead.


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