Pope celebrates last public Mass as pontiff Airstrike kills 10 Afghan civilians Russia still sending arms to Syria
VATICAN CITY -- Beginning a long farewell to his flock, a weary Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his final public Mass as pontiff, presiding over Ash Wednesday services.
The mood inside St. Peter's Basilica was somber during the Mass. But the thousands in attendance erupted in a rousing standing ovation as Benedict exited for the last time as pope. Then, in a rare gesture and sign of respect, the bishops removed their mitres.
"Viva il papa!" the crowd yelled as the pope stepped off the altar, assisted by two clergymen, and departed St. Peter's aboard a moving platform to spare him the long walk down the aisle.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the most solemn season on the church's liturgical calendar. By Easter, on March 31, the church will likely have a new pope.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO airstrike apparently targeting Taliban commanders in an Afghan village near the border with Pakistan killed 10 civilians, including women and children, officials said Wednesday.
The attack Tuesday night in the village of Chugam, in eastern Kunar province, also killed four Taliban commanders, according to Abdul Zahir, the governor of Shigal district.
Zahir said Afghan and NATO forces were conducting a ground operation in the area when insurgents opened fire on them from inside a house. The ground forces called for backup, resulting in the airstrike, he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the airstrike.
MOSCOW -- Russia will keep supplying weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime despite the country's escalating civil war, the head of Russia's state arms trader said Wednesday.
Anatoly Isaikin, the director of Rosoboronexport, said Russia sees no need to stop its arms trade with Syria as the trade isn't prohibited by the United Nations. He dismissed Western criticism of Russian arms sales to Assad's regime, saying his company has only delivered defensive weapons.
"In the absence of sanctions, we are continuing to fulfill our contract obligations," Isaikin said.
Moscow has been the main protector of Assad's regime.