(UPDATE) World sends sympathy, offers aid to quake-hit Italy

Posted at 04/06/09 9:52 PM

PARIS - From Barack Obama to Dmitry Medvedev, world leaders expressed their sympathy and queued up to pledge aid Monday as Italy reeled from an earthquake that killed at least 100 people.

As the death toll rose and rescue teams searched for survivors, the pope also offered his prayers for lives lost in the natural disaster after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency.

From Turkey, where he is on an official visit, the US president said: "We want to send our condolences to the families there and hope that we are able to get rescue teams in."

"Russia is shocked by this tragedy," Russian leader Medvedev said in a telegram to Berlusconi, who cancelled a trip to Moscow to lend his support at the scene. "We sympathize with those who have suffered and share their sorrow."

Officials at the Vatican in Rome, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of the heart of the earthquake zone, said Pope Benedict XVI sent his prayers to the victims in L'Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region.

In a telegram to the archbishop of L'Aquila, the pope said he was praying for the victims, "especially the children" killed in the earthquake, which the Italian geophysical institute measured at magnitude 6.2.

L'Aquila was struck just after 3:30 am (0130 GMT) Monday by the earthquake that brought down or seriously damaged many Renaissance-era and Baroque buildings, including the dome on one of L'Aquila's centuries-old churches.

"I am leaving for L'Aquila. I have cancelled my trip to Moscow because I think the situation is such that the presence of the head of government at the scene could be useful," Berlusconi told Italian television.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy messaged Berlusconi: "My thoughts are in particular with the injured, and with all those who have lost a loved one, to whom I ask you to pass on my most sad regards."

European Union, Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Israel and Russia all stepped forward with offers of aid, although Italian civil protection head Agostino Miozzo said such it was not immediately needed.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso offered his "greatest solidarity and deepest sympathy" while Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, speaking on behalf of the Czech EU presidency, said: "We are monitoring Italy's needs and we are ready to react to them."

In a message to Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, Schwarzenberg expressed his heartache at the news that children were among the victims.

From Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic sent his condolences to his Italian counterpart Giorgio Napoletano, with similar messages coming from Polish, Portuguese and Bulgarian counterparts Lech Kaczynski, Anibal Cavaco Silva and Georgy Parvanov.

The Croatian government offered to send a specialist team across the Adriatic Sea that divides it from Italy, including sniffer dogs trained to find survivors buried under rubble.

Across the Mediterranean Sea, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali expressed his "compassion and sympathy" to the families of victims.

Sympathy also flooded in from further afield, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak calling Napolitano, the official MENA news agency reported in Cairo, and Jordan's King Abdullah II sending a cable.