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WORLD: Pope Benedict visits Venice

Pope Benedict visits Venice

VENICE, Italy -- Pope Benedict XVI greeted thousands of faithful packed into Venice's St. Mark's Square on Saturday for a pastoral visit, the first by a pope since his predecessor John Paul II plied the canals 26 years ago in a gondola styled for Venice's Byzantine-era rulers.

The pope was ferried in a wooden boat from a helicopter landing pad to St. Mark's, flanked by police in boats and a pair of jet skis. Singing and chanting well-wishers welcomed Benedict, draped with a red cape against the chilly wind, as church bells pealed and boat horns blared.

The pope extended his blessing on the city, recalling Venice's ''special vocation over the centuries of being a bridge between East and West.

''Also in our age, with its new prospects and complex challenges, it is called to assume important responsibilities in the promotion of a welcoming and sharing culture, capable of creating bridges of dialogue between people and nations,'' the pope said in Italian to the crowd of some 25,000.

Benedict, on a two-day visit to tend his flock, was then driven through the throngs filling the arcade-lined piazza in an electric car, coming to a stop at St. Mark's Cathedral, where he prayed before the saint's relics inside.

Gadhafi forces bomb fuel depot

BENGHAZI, Libya -- Moammar Gadhafi's forces rocketed the main fuel depot in Misrata on Saturday, intensifying a two-month siege on the rebel-held city that has claimed many civilian lives and prompted warnings of a humanitarian crisis.

Government forces sent Grad rockets slamming into the depot, which contains vital stores of fuel for cars, trucks, ships and generators powering hospitals and other key sites in a city left darkened by electricity cuts, residents said.

Taliban attack Afghan offices

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The Taliban unleashed a major assault Saturday on government buildings throughout Afghanistan's main southern city, an attack that cast doubt on how successful the U.S.-led coalition has been in its nearly yearlong military campaign to establish security and stability in the former Taliban stronghold.

The Taliban said their goal was to take control of Kandahar city, the birthplace of the Taliban and President Hamid Karzai's home province, making it the most ambitious of a series of recent high-profile attacks on government installations.