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Pontiff's Death Mourned Around The World

Pope John Paul II (file photo) Prague, 3 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The world is mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who died late yesterday.

Bells tolled for the 84-year-old pontiff as world leaders paid tribute to his unstinting battle for freedom and recalled his contribution to the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.

Muslims around the world praised John Paul's drive to build bridges with Islam. The pope was the first Catholic leader to officially set foot in a mosque, during a visit to Syria in 2001. His papacy also led to the reconciliation between Jews and the Catholic Church, crowned by the establishment of ties with Israel and a millennium pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Hekmatullah Saifullahzada, one of the leaders of the opposition Islamic Party of Tajikistan, speaking by telephone from Dushanbe in an interview with RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Nurmohammad Kholov today, said:

"He had influence over different aspects of social life. In efforts to start dialogue and cooperation between the two civilizations, he served well. In my opinion, people who had witnessed his efforts would hope that anybody who takes his place will follow his footsteps vigorously. We are hoping that his successor will go even further in this direction."

Bolatkhan Taizhan, a Kazakh politician and former adviser to the rulingl Otan party, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service: "The death of the pope, who managed to fit the whole world within his heart, is a loss for every human being with a sense of honor and dignity. I'd like to join the mourning around the world, and I'm sure, all of Kazakhstan does so, too."

Speaking today by telephone to Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev noted Pope John Paul's contribution to ending the Cold War.

"The pope was an extraordinary person. He was an eminent servant of the Church of Christ. And finally, as the head of the Vatican state, he contributed greatly to ending the Cold War and [bringing about] closer cooperation among the nations," Gorbachev said.

Gorbachev added: "On the whole and speaking candidly, he is a man who used his high position in the best way. On the whole, he was not a man who always placed political calculations at the forefront. He judged the world, political situation, nature, the state of nature, according to the idea of the right to life -- a decent life for people -- and the responsibility of people for what is going on in the world."

French President Jacques Chirac was among those praising John Paul's moves towards better relations with other religions.

"John Paul II has always refused the fatality of the clash of civilizations," Chirac said. "Everywhere he called for confident and respectful dialogue between people, cultures, and religions. By his courage, his determination, he will have touched spirits and hearts by insisting on answering to the thirst of justice and to the quest for sense that is expressed around the world."

China, which does not recognize the authority of the Vatican, offered its sympathies today and said it hoped his successor would act to improve relations.

See also: Pope John Paul II Is Dead

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