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Pope forced to pull out of COP28 trip because of health issues

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds a weekly audience at the Vatican

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has cancelled his planned trip to the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai because of the effects of influenza and lung inflammation, the Vatican said on Tuesday, adding to concerns about his health.

The pope, who is 86, was due to begin a three-day visit to Dubai on Friday and the Vatican had said earlier on Tuesday that he was going ahead with the trip.

"Although the Holy Father's general clinical condition has improved with regard to the flu and inflammation of the respiratory tract, doctors have asked the pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai," the Vatican said.

The pope had agreed not to travel "with great regret," it added, saying that it would look into ways that the leader of the world's Roman Catholics could contribute to the discussions remotely.

In a briefing earlier on Tuesday, Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni had said Francis would deliver one of the keynote speeches in Dubai on Saturday and have bilateral meetings the same day with about 30 people, including about 20 heads of state.

The pope had also met with Spanish bishops visiting the Vatican on Tuesday.

CONCERN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

The pope has made protection of the environment one of the cornerstones of his pontificate.

In a document issued in October, Francis had appealed to climate change deniers and foot-dragging politicians to have a change of heart, saying they cannot gloss over its human causes or deride scientific facts while the planet "may be nearing the breaking point".

Francis also said the transition to clean, renewable energy and the abandonment of fossil fuels was not going fast enough.

The Vatican had announced on Monday the pope would limit his activities this week in order to conserve his strength after contracting the flu.

A CT scan done at a Rome hospital on Saturday excluded pneumonia but detected inflammation in the pope's lungs that caused breathing difficulties. He was receiving antibiotics intravenously, the Vatican said on Monday.

As a young man in his native Argentina, Francis had part of a lung removed.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella and Alvise Armellini; additional reporting by Gavin Jones and Keith Weir; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)