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'No specific threat' to beatification, says police chief

World leaders and monarchs gather in Rome for events

29 April, 14:55
'No specific threat' to beatification, says police chief (ANSA) - Rome, April 29 - As global leaders began arriving in Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II Friday, Italian police chief Antonio Manganelli said there was no 'specific' security threat to the events.

"There are no specific threats but these are major events, and significant because of the people who take part in them and the subject, so we have a duty to strengthen intelligence, information, territory checks, surveillance and protection services." Manganelli said this was "not a new problem" for Rome which had witnessed the Jubilee in 2000, the death of John Paul II in 2005 and the election of the current pope, Benedict XVI.

Thousands of police will be on duty at the weekend and helicopters manned with video cameras will conduct aerial surveillance of the city.

Sixty-two monarchs and foreign leaders were expected to attend the beatification of the late pontiff to be held at St.

Peter's Square on Sunday.

Storms and showers have been forecast for the weekend but were not expected to deter more than a million Catholic pilgrims from taking to the streets.

The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was among the foreign dignitaries expected to attend the ceremony and was due to arrive on an official flight at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Saturday.

Poland's President Bronislaw Komrowski will be accompanied by Senate Speaker Grzegorz Schetyna and House Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz.

Thousands of Polish pilgrims have begun arriving in the Italian capital to mark the event, while the country's prime minister, Donald Tusk, has opted to spend the day in John Paul's hometown of Wadowice in southern Poland. Around 20,000 people are expected to gather in the Polish town's main square to watch events live from the Vatican on Sunday.

The president of Albania, Bamir Topi, and the president of Lithuania, Andrius Kubilius, and French Premier Francois Fillon were expected to be among the heads of state at the Vatican.

King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium are among the European royalty who will travel to the Vatican to attend the beatification, while the Duke of Gloucester, Richard Windsor, will represent the British royal family.

Around 300 medical volunteers and 23 ambulances from Misericordia will be on hand to offer support at the beatification which will begin on Saturday with a vigil at the Circus Maximus. Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84 on April 2, 2005, after a long battle against Parkinson's disease and other ailments. His beatification is the final step to sainthood.

Pilgrims who gathered on the streets of Rome to remember the late pope immediately began the now famous cry, 'Santo Subito!' (Saint now!).

A photo exhibition that includes 150 images of the late pope and his trips abroad opened in Rome Thursday to mark the beatification.

The exhibition, entitled 'At God's Altar', is at the Capitoline Museums next to the town hall and will run until September 25.