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Pope visits region in central Italy hit by earthquake

The Pope has expressed his solidarity with survivors of Italian earthquake and called for a process of rebuilding and rebirth to get underway

The Pope in a yard with rescue workers

Pope Benedict XVI visted a collapsed student dormitory in L'Aquila

The Pope on Tuesday visited the central Italian region which was devastated by this month's earthquake in which 296 people died.

The Pontiff's first stop was the village of Onna where almost a sixth of the hamlet's 300 residents were killed three weeks ago by the quake, which measured a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale.

"I encourage everyone, institutions and businesses, to see that this village and this region are reborn," the Pope said at a tent camp for homeless survivors outside Onna.

He also said that he had made the trip to express his closeness to the people of the region in "the most direct way possible".

Pope Benedict XVI later travelled to the Abruzzo capital L'Aquila, 100 km north-east of Rome, where he visited the ruins of the 13th century basilica of Santa Maria di Collegmaggio, whose roof caved in during the April 6 earthquake, Italy's worst in a generation.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church also visited a dormitory where eight students died in the disaster as well as a military academy where a mass funeral took place for 205 victims of the quake on April 10, when Pope Benedict led Good Friday observances in Rome and at the Vatican.

The earthquake hit 26 towns and villages in the Abruzzo region in the Apennine mountains and drove around 50,000 from their homes and toppled or heavily damaged thousands of buildings across the region.

Last week Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that L'Aquila would in July host a G8 summit rather than the original choice of La Maddalena, an island off Sardinia.

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