Pope Francis welcomed in UAE as rights groups up the pressure | News | DW | 04.02.2019
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Pope Francis welcomed in UAE as rights groups up the pressure

The pope has begun his historic visit to the UAE with a lavish welcome at the presidential palace. Rights groups have urged the pontiff to press the Emirati government about human rights violations in Yemen.

Pope Francis met United Arab Emirates leaders in Abu Dhabi on Monday at the start of a two-day trip aimed at fostering dialogue between Christians and Muslims. He is the first pontiff to set foot on the Arabian peninsula.

The pope was greeted with military honors and a flying squadron at the presidential palace, before sitting down with the UAE's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Francis warned an interfaith gathering that the future of humanity was at stake unless religions united to resist the "logic of armed power ... the arming of borders, the raising of walls."

"There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future," he told Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince and hundreds of imams, muftis, ministers, rabbis and swamis.

"God is with those who seek peace," Francis added.

Read morePope Francis' visit to UAE sends 'message of coexistence'

Earlier, Sheikh Mohammed tweeted a series of photographs about the meeting, saying that UAE rulers were "delighted" to meet the pontiff "in our homeland of tolerance."

"We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence and important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies," he wrote on Twitter.

Allegations of rights abuses

Human rights groups have called on the pope to confront the crown prince about the repression of government critics and atrocities committed during Yemen's conflict. 

The UAE is a key member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Iran-allied rebels in impoverished Yemen since 2015. Stalled efforts to implement a cease-fire have made it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach civilians, with millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation.

Read moreYemen's war explained in 4 key points

Jets fly over the presidential palace in Abu Dhabi

Jets fly spouting the colors of the Vatican City flag fly over the presidential palace

In a letter to the pope on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused the Saudi-led coalition of impeding the delivery of aid while indiscriminately bombing Yemeni homes, markets and schools.

Ahead of his departure to the UAE on Sunday, Francis called on all sides to "respect" the cease-fire pact and allow humanitarian aid to reach suffering Yemenis.

Speaking on conflict at his keynote speech on Monday, Francis cited Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya to make clear that "no violence can be justified in the name of religion."

"War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death.

"The time has come when religions should more actively exert themselves, with courage and audacity, and without pretense, to help the human family deepen the capacity for reconciliation, the vision of hope and the concrete paths of peace," he added.

The UAE is calling 2019 its "year of tolerance," but HRW said the government "has demonstrated no real interest in improving its human rights record." The group also called for the release of activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, who is serving a 10-year jail sentence for voicing critical views on social media.

Read morePope Francis reaches out to UAE's migrant-driven Christian population

The trip culminates on Tuesday, when Francis is expected to preside over an open-air mass in a stadium for an estimated 130,000 Catholics.

The UAE is an Islamic country with mainly Asian migrants making up the majority of its population. It is also home to nearly a million Catholics, according to the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia.

aw, nm/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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