VATICAN CITY, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Pope Benedict XVI said Monday he will resign Feb. 28 because his health forced him "to recognize my incapacity" in leading the Catholic Church.
The pope's announcement took church officials, even the Vatican spokesman, by surprise, ANSA reported.
"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," Benedict, 85, who became pope April 19, 2005, said in a statement.
"[In] today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith ... both strength of mind and body are necessary ... which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," he said.
The pope thanked the papal community for its support and asked pardon "for all my defects."
Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, said Benedict's announcement was a "bolt out of the blue."
Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said, "The pope took us a bit by surprise," ANSA reported.
Anti-government rallies planned in Egypt
CAIRO, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Members of about 13 Egyptian political parties said Monday they would participate in rallies calling for the "downfall" of the government, officials said.
Protesters say they would attend afternoon rallies marking the second anniversary of former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.
The parties accuse President Mohamed Morsi's regime of "repression" and "brutality" and are seeking the "downfall of the regime," officials told Ahram Online.
"Two years after the first victory of the revolution, Egypt's first democratically elected president has set a record for lying and broken promises. Blood was shed yet again and martyrs fell ... ," said a statement from the political parties.
"In the midst of ceaseless political repression, economic and social malaise is worsening day after day ... successive governments have failed to fulfill even one of the demands of social justice."
The rallies were to take place in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace in Cairo, the Nour Mosque in Abbasiya and the Raba al-Adawiya mosque in Nasr, Tariq el-Kholi a spokesman for the April 6 youth movement told Ahram Online.
Russia temporarily bans U.S. meat imports
MOSCOW, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Russia enacted a temporary ban of beef and pork imports from the United States Monday, citing the use of the feed additive ractopamine, officials said.
The use of ractopamine, which is used to stimulate livestock growth and make meat leaner, has been banned in 160 countries, including Russia, RIA Novosti reported.
The U.S. government and meat industry lobbyists say the additive is safe in certain quantities.
A spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation said in the first 11 months of 2012 the United States had exported approximately $280 million worth of pork and $305 million worth of beef to Russia. The ban could mean large financial loses for the United States, RIA Novosti reported.
Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, said the U.S. government was "deeply concerned" by the decision.
"These actions threaten to undermine our bilateral trade relationship," she said.
Iran said to train militias in Syria
DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 11 (UPI) -- Militias fighting for Syrian President Bashar Assad have a second goal of keeping Iran's influence in Syria if Assad falls, officials tell The Washington Post.
As many as 50,000 militiamen backed by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah Shiite Islamic militant group and political party are being cultivated inside Syria to preserve and protect Tehran and Hezbollah's interests in a post-Assad Syria, the U.S. and Middle Eastern officials told the newspaper.
"It's a big operation," a senior Obama administration official told the Post. "The immediate intention seems to be to support the Syrian regime. But it's important for Iran to have a force in Syria that is reliable and can be counted on."
A senior Arab official agreed Iran's strategy has two tracks.
"One is to support Assad to the hilt -- the other is to set the stage for major mischief if he collapses," the official said.
The focus of the militias, some reputed to have ties to al-Qaida, contrasts with the fragmentation of the rebels seeking to overthrow Assad, the Post said.