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Paris (AFP) - The acting president of the Central African Republic said Thursday she hopes Pope Francis will go ahead with his visit to the conflict-hit country this month despite security concerns.
France, which plays a key peacekeeping role in the country, has warned that international forces will struggle to cope with the added security needed for the visit, which is scheduled for November 29 and 30.
But transitional president Catherine Samba Panza told France's RTL radio that she met with a member of the pope's team and pushed for the visit to go ahead.
"I said the pope must come," she told France's RTL radio.
"The arrival of the pope would be a great benediction. I believe that by the grace of God, the pope will come and nothing will happen," she said.
Ahead of elections in December, tensions have once again mounted in the Central African Republic, which has suffered more than two years of sectarian violence.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Wednesday that international peacekeepers would struggle to cope with the thousands flocking to see Pope Francis from around the country and its neighbours.
There are currently 900 French troops and 12,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in the country.
It will be the first African visit by Pope Francis, who will also travel to Uganda and Kenya.