Respect human rights, civil liberty, pope tells Sri Lanka leaders

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Pope Francis holds general audience at the Vatican
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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Wednesday urged authorities in Sri Lanka, which has been shaken by unrest over the country's worst economic crisis, to "listen to the hopes of the people" and respect human rights and civil liberties.

Protesters have targeted the family of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, blaming them for a meltdown in the Indian Ocean nation that has brought massive shortages of key items of food, fuel and medicine..

Soldiers are now patrolling the streets of Colombo, the commercial capital, with orders to shoot at anyone who damages public property or endangers lives.

Speaking at the end of a general audience in St. Peter's Square, Francis noted that it was mostly young people who had been protesting against the country's social and economic problems and called for calm on all sides.

"I appeal to all those who have responsibility to listen to the hopes of the people, guaranteeing full respect for human right and civil liberties," he said.

Sri Lanka, which Francis visited in 2015, is majority Buddhist but has a small Christian community amounting to around 7% of the total population. Most of the Christians in Sri Lanka are Catholics.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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