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Coronavirus: Pope Francis calls for debt relief and end to sanctions

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Virus Outbreak Vatican Easter
Virus Outbreak Vatican Easter   -   Copyright  Andreas Solaro/Pool Photo via AP
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Pope Francis implored world leaders not to forget the vulnerable in a plea for global solidarity during the coronavirus pandemic.

He called for international sanctions to be "relaxed" and for a "reduction, if not the forgiveness" of debt for poor countries during his Easter Sunday benediction.

These sanctions "make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens," Pope Francis said.

"This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic," he said, saying it was a challenge that was "shared by all".

He spoke during a strikingly empty Easter service at St. Peter's Basilica due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Normally St. Peter's Square, the plaza leading up to the basilica, would be filled with worshippers on the most important holiday in Christianity.

Thousands of churches across Europe, the U.S. and the world have instead planned 'virtual' Easter services due to the virus.

Pope Francis said the European Union in particular faced an "epochal challenge" due to the virus outbreak.

"After the Second World War, this continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past," he said.

"It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognise themselves as part of a single family and support one another."

The European continent has been the most hard hit by the pandemic with more than 800,000 cases and over 70,000 deaths.

The pontiff also reminded his followers of the world's other horrors including the conflicts in Syria and Yemen and the plight of refugees fleeing war, droughts and famine.

"Indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words for ever," Pope Francis said.