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Cheering crowds greet Pope Francis in Kenya at start of landmark Africa tour

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AFP Photo: Filippo Monteforte

AFP Photo: Filippo Monteforte

Pope Francis landed in Kenya’s capital Nairobi Wednesday on the first leg of a landmark trip to Africa, with huge crowds, choirs and dancers waiting to greet him.

The flags of both Kenya and the Vatican flew from the airplane’s cockpit as it taxied to a stop, where Francis was met by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with a red carpet welcome.

Francis, who will also visit Uganda and troubled Central African Republic (CAR) on a six-day trip, smiled and waved as he emerged from the airplane, and was greeted with cheers from excited crowds as he stepped onto Kenyan soil.

The pope is expected to call for the need to address inequality to ensure peace and end conflict.

On a trip fraught with security concerns, thousands of police and troops have been deployed with key roads closed in the capital Nairobi, to ensure the pontiff’s visit is peaceful.

Al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch, the Shebab, have launched a string of attacks against Kenya because they have troops deployed in Somalia.

But Francis has played down fears for his safety, joking while on the flight to Kenya he was “more worried about the mosquitoes.”

Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said the country was honoured to welcome Francis as his first stop.

“It is a momentous day and heralds joy and hope for the people of Kenya,’ the editorial read. “The pope has indicated that he intends to speak on peaceful co-existence at a time when the country is rocked by many divisions — political, ethnic, class, and religious.”

A packed schedule will see the Pope visit a Nairobi slum, a shrine to Christian martyrs in Uganda and both a mosque and a refugee camp in CAR.

A total of 19 speeches will include a major statement on the environment ahead of the Paris climate change summit.

Francis is the third pope to visit Africa, a continent which now counts one in six of the world’s Catholics and whose importance to the Church is set to grow significantly over the coming decades.



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