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EU Leaders Begin 50th Anniversary Celebration --> Preparations for the EU celebrations in front of Berlin's Reichstag today (epa) March 24, 2007 -- European Union leaders today began festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the bloc's founding.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hosting concert at the Berlin Philharmonic concert hall featuring Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, whose final chorus "Ode To Joy" is the EU anthem.

After the concert, EU leaders are due to attend a banquet hosted by German President Koehler. On March 25, EU leaders are due to sign the so-called Berlin Declaration on the union's principles and goals.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI today criticized the European Union for failing to mention God or what he called Europe's Christian roots in declarations marking the anniversary.

In a speech to European bishops at the Vatican today, the pontiff said Europe was committing an "apostasy of itself" by abandoning Christian values.

(compiled from agency reports)

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