Prominent Muslim baptized by pope

Italy’s most prominent Muslim, an iconoclastic writer who condemned Islamic extremism and defended Israel, converted to Catholicism Saturday in a baptism by the pope at a Vatican Easter service.

An Egyptian-born, nonpracticing Muslim who is married to a Catholic, Magdi Allam infuriated some Muslims with his books and columns in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, where he is a deputy editor. He titled one book “Long Live Israel.”

As a choir sang, Pope Benedict XVI poured holy water over Allam’s head and said a brief prayer in Latin.

Yahya Pallavicini, vice president of Coreis, the Islamic religious community in Italy, said he respected Allam’s choice but said he was “perplexed” by the symbolic and high-profile way in which he chose to convert.

“If Allam truly was compelled by a strong spiritual inspiration, perhaps it would have been better to do it delicately, maybe with a priest from Viterbo where he lives,” the ANSA news agency quoted Pallavicini as saying.


Cheney pledges support for Israel

Vice President Dick Cheney affirmed America’s “enduring and unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security at the start of a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories Saturday.

Cheney’s visit to the region comes as the United States is trying to nudge Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, which are locked in a slow-moving U.S.-sponsored peace process. Negotiations have been repeatedly derailed by outbreaks of violence between Israel and militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Although Cheney said Saturday that “tough decisions and painful concessions on both sides” were needed, he vowed, “The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security.”

Nairobi, Kenya

U.S. eases travel advisory

The United States has amended a travel advisory cautioning against travel to parts of Kenya, saying threats of violence have “dramatically receded” following a political power-sharing deal.

A deeply flawed Dec. 27 presidential election unleashed weeks of violence that killed more than 1,000 people and tarnished Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable and tourist-friendly countries. After weeks of bloodshed and mounting international pressure, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga agreed last month to share power.

“Threats of political demonstrations and violence have dramatically receded,” the State Department said Friday.

The United States still urged caution, recommending that Americans living in or traveling to Kenya “evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing, potential threats from terrorism and crime.”

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