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Pope 'would understand' use of force

Pope John Paul II would understand if the United States resorted to force to defend its citizens from further attacks, his official spokesman has said.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls told Reuters that the Vatican would prefer a non-violent solution to the crisis following the attacks in New York and Washington earlier this month. But he said the use of violence could be morally justified.

He was speaking during the Pope's current visit to the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

"If someone has done great harm to society and there is a danger that if he remains free he may be able to do it again, you have the right to apply self-defence for the society which you lead even though the means you may choose may be aggressive," Navarro-Valls said.

"Sometimes self-defence implies an action which may lead to the death of a person.

"Either people who have carried out a horrendous crime are put in a position where they can do no further harm, by being handed over and put into custody, or the principle of self-defence applies with all its consequences," the spokesman said.

The Pope's visit to multi-ethnic and multi-religious Kazakhstan has taken on a new significance since the attacks on the US. Kazakhstan borders on several other central Asian countries which could be caught up in any military action against Afghanistan.