Pope Appears to Urge Withdrawal of American Troops in Panama

Reuters

Pope John Paul II on Saturday appeared to call on Washington to withdraw its forces from Panama as soon as possible, diplomats said.

"There, too, it is the civilian population which has suffered the most," the Pope said in his yearly address to the diplomatic corps. "One hopes that without delay the Panamanian people may return to a normal life with the dignity and freedom to which any sovereign people have a right."

The United States has said 202 civilians were killed in a U.S. invasion last month that ousted strongman Gen. Manuel A. Noriega.

Diplomats said that by using the words normal and sovereign , the Pope appeared to be calling on Washington to withdraw its troops from Panama as soon as possible. But they noted that his language was neither harsh nor pointed.

In what is known unofficially as his "state of the world" talk, the Pope also told diplomats that the West should help newly democratic Eastern European nations develop societies based on moral values, not treat them as new members of a club of consumer countries.

The pontiff devoted more than half of his 13-page address to the stunning changes in Eastern Europe, which he said resulted from the "irrepressible thirst for freedom which has . . . toppled walls and opened doors."

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