Berserkistan Navigator Security Tight for Pope's
Visit to Slovenia Tomorrow

By Steve Pagani

Pope to Visit Slovenia LJUBLJANA, May 17 (Reuters) — Thousands of police officers took up position around Ljubljana on Friday in Slovenia's biggest security operation ahead of the first visit by Pope John Paul to the former Yugoslav republic. The three-day visit, the 71st abroad by history's "pilgrim Pope," coincides with the Pontiff's 76th birthday.

The Polish-born Pope was due to arrive at Ljubljana's Brnik airport at 1445 GMT on Friday, where he will be met by Slovenian President Milan Kucan and received with full military honours. Kucan on Thursday spoke of his gratitude to the Vatican for resolutely backing Ljubljana's independence drive from former Yugoslavia five years ago.

"We will get an opportunity to thank (the Pope) for the support at a time when a decision on Slovenia's statehood was being taken," the president told a news conference. The Vatican was among the first states to recognise Slovenia, which proclaimed its independence on June 25, 1991.

Following the welcoming ceremony, the Pope was expected to make a private visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy in Brezje, 40 km (20 miles) northwest of Ljubljana — Slovenia's main pilgrimage centre. Solemn religious ceremonies at which the Pope is expected to touch on the themes of tolerance and co-existence will give way to a celebratory youth rally on Saturday at the town of Postojna, 50 km (25 miles) southwest of Ljubljana, to mark the Pope's birthday.

Hundreds of thousands of Slovenians were expected to be joined by day-trippers from neighbouring Austria, Croatia and Italy for the birthday bash. The Pope, whose health has been a focus of media speculation since intestinal surgery in 1992, used his birthday last year to dismiss suggestions he might retire like other Roman Catholic bishops whey they reach 75.

The atmosphere in the Slovenian capital was low-key ahead of the Pope's visit, his third abroad this year. He travels to Berlin in June and France and Hungary in September. A handful of shops displayed pictures of the Pope in their windows, but none of the market stalls near the baroque cathedral of Sveti Nicolaj were selling any of the religious trinkets, posters and statues of the Pope that filled the streets of Zagreb when the pope visited Croatia in 1994.

Officials said around 8,000 policemen were on duty for the three-day visit. Officers cordoned off the narrow, cobbled streets around the cathedral in the picturesque centre, built mostly in the 19th century when Ljubljana was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The entrance to the archbishop's residence, where the pope will sleep on Friday and Saturday, was decked out in a canopy of white and purple burnished with the Vatican coat-of-arms.

A senior clergyman in charge of the pope's stay at the residence said he would be treated to a birthday dinner of veal or lamb and vegetables, accompanied by Slovenian wine. The Pope ends his visit on Sunday with a mass at the airport at Maribor, Slovenia's second biggest city.

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