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Pope visits Dominicans, honors first missionaries

Pope John Paul II visited President Joaquin Balaguer on Saturday in a palace bristling with guns.

The visit came before a Mass in a cathedral renovated with funds from Balaguer's government.

Balaguer, who is blind, walked in first for the talks in his Renaissance-style residence. He was helped by a uniformed officer and surrounded by six soldiers brandishing Uzi submachine guns.

The 86-year-old Balaguer, a historian and poet, has been criticized by some for his lavish spending to build a commemorative Columbus Lighthouse.

The pope is seeking to steer clear of official celebrations marking the landing of Christopher Columbus 500 years ago.

The Vatican maintains that the pope has come to mark the arrival of the first Christian missionaries 500 years ago _ not the landing of Columbus. He is scheduled to celebrate Mass today next to the lighthouse, which the Vatican says is the only site large enough to accommodate crowds.

The Dominican government plans for a Columbus observance prompted widespread demonstrations in which two people were killed and dozens arrested. The demonstrators protested the millions being spent on the commemorations and the lauding of a man they say oversaw mass killings of native people and introduced slavery.

The pope acknowledged abuses occurred but said some missionaries and theologians had opposed mistreatment of natives.

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