Pope recovering after successful operation

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Pope John Paul II was recovering on Friday after a successful tracheotomy operation to ease his breathing problems. The pontiff was said to be breathing without assistance and in good spirits. He had also eaten breakfast, his spokesman said.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls dismissed rumours that the Pope was suffering from a bronchial pneumonia infection and said there would be no further bulletins until Monday, unless an emergency arose.

On Thursday the Pope had been rushed back to Rome's Gemelli hospital with flu for the second time in a month.

The procedure had taken 30 minutes after the Pope had given approval for the operation. John Paul's flu symptoms had worsened in recent days with renewed respiratory problems, leading to the decision to perform the tracheotomy.

The latest operation came shortly after Italy's leading Catholic newspaper claimed to have evidence that the KGB, the former Soviet intelligence agency, had considered killing the Pope, who was shot and wounded in St Peter's Square in May 1981.

According to Avvenire, a daily published by the Italian national bishops' conference, a document detailing the KGB's hostile intentions towards the Pope soon after his election in 1978 was discovered in the archives of the StB, the former intelligence service of Czechoslovakia, a Soviet-allied state in communist times.

The document, purporting to come from the KGB, discussed two anti-papal operations codenamed “Weather” and “Infection” that were aimed at discrediting the church and running disinformation campaigns against it, Avvenire said.

The newspaper quoted the document as saying that, if these operations failed to counteract the Polish-born Pope's influence on communist countries, it might be necessary to contemplate “physical elimination”. John Paul was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish gunman who later asserted that communist Bulgaria's secret services, acting at the KGB's behest, had hired him to murder the Pope.

Although no proof of a Bulgarian or KGB connection has been established in a court of law, many investigators believe the Soviet authorities and their allies in eastern Europe had ample reason to target John Paul because of his enormous influence in Catholic Poland and Czechoslovakia.

An Italian parliamentary panel is considering whether to reopen an inquiry into the papal assassination attempt.

According to Avvenire, the alleged KGB document dates from the time when Yuri Andropov, the former Soviet ruler, ran the intelligence agency before he became Communist party leader in November 1982.

It said the document had been found in the Czechoslovak archives after the fall of communism in 1989 and had been handed to Vaclav Havel, first post-communist Czechoslovak president.

The alleged document does not draw a specific connection between the KGB's activities and the shooting of the Pope, but Avvenire said the document's authenticity had been vouched for by Viktor Sheimov, a former KGB agent who defected to the US in 1980.

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