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March 19, 2013 at 7:57 AM
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Francis calls on all to serve, protect

VATICAN CITY, March 19 (UPI) -- Pope Francis, in his inauguration mass Tuesday, said he will look to St. Joseph's life because his role as Jesus' protector has expanded to protect everyone.

"To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: This is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out," Francis said during his homily, "yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us."

In Joseph, a carpenter whose life is celebrated Tuesday, "we learn how to respond to God's call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ," Francis said. "Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!"

Thousands of people assembled in St. Peter's square to watch as Francis began the ceremonial mass inside the basilica to install him as the 266th pope of the Catholic church. The pope arrived standing in the rear of a white convertible rather than a covered version of the traditional "popemobile" that is protected by bulletproof glass, The New York Times reported.

As he passed through the piazza, the pope, stopped occasionally to kiss a baby or other onlookers, even giving a thumb's up sign, which drew laughter, the Times said.

Dignitaries from around the world attended the two-hour ceremony, including a delegation from Argentina, Francis' native country. The Vatican said Monday representatives of 132 countries and international organizations were expected to attend the installation mass.

Syrian rebels deny use of chemical weapons

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 19 (UPI) -- Rebel forces in Syria denied government accusations they used chemical weapons in an attack in Aleppo Tuesday, killing at least 16 people.

Foreign media outlets reported at least 16 people were killed in the attack and more than 80 injured.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency said terrorists fired a rocket containing chemical substances in Khan al-Assal area outside Aleppo.

However, a rebel commander said the regime fired Scud missiles containing chemical agents at the city, Russia Today said.

Medical sources in Khan al-Assal said people suffering from suffocation and toxicity due to the exposure of unknown gases were being treated, the Chinese news agency Xinhua said.

Earlier in Istanbul, Turkey, Syria's main opposition group picked a naturalized U.S. citizen, Ghassan Hitto, 49, a telecommunications executive, as its first prime minister.

Some coalition members said the election would send a message to Assad the opposition could challenge his rule politically as well as militarily, The Wall Street Journal said.

Jerusalem, Ramallah gear up for Obama

JERUSALEM, March 19 (UPI) -- Stringent security preparations are in place in Jerusalem and Ramallah ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's first presidential visit, officials said.

In Jerusalem, thousands of Israel police and army units are to be deployed along the routes Obama and his entourage will use during the three-day visit, which begins Wednesday, to Israel.

Security preparations have been coordinated with the U.S. Security Service and other personnel charged with securing the president's visit, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The road to the King David Hotel where Obama will be staying will be sealed off Tuesday and residents won't be permitted to park vehicles along the route. Elsewhere in the city, already adorned with U.S. flags, authorities warned vehicles will be towed if they are left on routes to be used by the president.

Public transport will also be affected with some bus routes adjusted due to security concerns, officials said.

While most Jerusalemites took the security preparations in stride, others complained saying they would fail to arrive at work on time because of changes in public transportation. Others questioned whether Obama's visit to Israel is worth the fuss, Channel One and Channel 2 said.

Rain, landslides kill 16 in Brazil

PETROPOLIS, Brazil, March 19 (UPI) -- Heavy rains Monday caused landslides that killed at least 16 people in Petropolis, Brazil, 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, officials said.

A baby and two first responders were among the victims after a swollen river flooded the center of the city, the BBC reported.

More "drastic measures" may be necessary to evacuate people in high-risk areas who ignored warnings, President Dilma Rousseff said.

Some areas received nearly 12 inches of rain within 24 hours, and at least 50 people lost their homes to the landslides, authorities said. More heavy rain was in the forecast.

Similar slides in the area in 2011 killed 900 people.

2 teens arrested for harassing rape victim

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, March 19 (UPI) -- Police arrested two teenage girls for threatening the 16-year-old victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Office said the threats came Sunday soon after Judge Thomas Lipps found Trent Mays, 17, and Ma'lik Richmond, 16, were found delinquent -- the juvenile equivalent of guilty of raping an allegedly drunk 16-year-old girl during a series of parties in August.

Both teens were sentenced to a minimum of one year in prison, with Mays receiving an extra year sentence for possessing a nude photograph of the victim.

The two Steubenville teenage girls -- ages 16 and 15 -- suspected of threatening the rape victim were taken to Jefferson County Juvenile Detention Center, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Monday.

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