China blocks travel by some for South Korea papal visit: organizer

Thu Aug 14, 2014 12:43pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) - Pope Francis sent an unprecedented message of good will to China on Thursday before touching down in Seoul, but the first papal trip to Asia in 15 years got off to a shaky start with the news some Chinese had been barred from joining a youth celebration.

About half of more than 100 Chinese who had planned to attend an Asian Youth Day event during the pope's visit are unable to attend due to "a complicated situation inside China", Heo Young-yeop, spokesman for the Committee for the Papal Visit to Korea, told reporters.

He declined to give further details, citing their safety. Another organizer, who declined to be identified, said some of the would-be attendees had been arrested by Chinese authorities.

Beijing rejects Vatican authority over its Catholics.

China's Foreign Ministry said it had "noted" the Pope's position, and repeated its position that Beijing was sincere about wanting to improve relations with the Vatican.

"We are willing to keep working hard with the Vatican to carry out constructive dialogue and push for the improvement of bilateral ties," the ministry said in a statement faxed to Reuters, but did not address the issue of Chinese barred from attending the youth event.

As the pope's plane approached South Korean airspace off the west of the peninsula, North Korea test fired three short-range rockets into the sea off its east coast, according to South Korea's defense ministry.

The test site was hundreds of kilometers away from the pope's plane. North Korea fired two more projectiles from the same location early on Thursday afternoon.   Continued...

Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the bishops at the headquarters of the Korean Bishops's Conference in Seoul August 14, 2014.   REUTERS/Korea Pool/Yonhap