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Many Argentines see Pope as justifying their position

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The echoes of South Atlantic war all but drowned out Pope John Paul II's eloquent and ringing appeals for peace between Argentina and Britain this weekend.

With British forces on the Falkland Islands launching their long-expected offensive to retake Port Stanley, Argentina was gearing for unhappy news from the front.

Official communiques admitted Argentine losses of men, materiel, and territory. More such losses were expected as the fighting intensified around Port Stanley.

Britain, meanwhile, was being accused of everything from human-rights violations of the utmost magnitude to having betrayed the cause of liberty, law, and justice.

Britain's attack Friday night and Saturday on Argentine defenses along the ever-smaller perimeter around Port Stanley, while the Pope was in Buenos Aires calling for peace, was seen here as a ''cynical betrayal of everything decent in this world.''

That the papacy looks on Argentina's seizure of the Falklands with considerable disdain - and holds Argentina every bit as culpable, if not more so than Great Britain - is lost on Argentine ears. What Argentina wants to hear, Argentina hears - and little else.

Pope John Paul himself seemed to distance himself from the government headed by Army Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri. He went over the heads of government in what a Vatican source said was a distinct appeal to the Argentine populace to end the fighting.

His spiritual message, however, seemed less impressive to the Argentine nation than his actual presence.

''He came,'' crowed a radio commentator Sunday, ''to show that he supports us in our just war against the English infidel.''

This is an extreme view. But there can be no mistaking the Argentine feeling that the Pope's presence here helped the Argentine cause in the Falklands war.


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