France’s embattled Hollande to meet pope, woo angry Catholics

VATICAN CITY - Abortion and euthanasia will be among hot button issues on the table today when Pope Francis meets embattled French President Francois Hollande, under pressure after revelations of an affair but hoping to woo back Catholic voters.

Francis has largely avoided public diatribes on Church doctrine but Vatican watchers say he is likely to press the Socialist leader on issues including changes to abortion legislation and a drive to legalise euthanasia.

"They will certainly not play hide-and-seek. There will be no holds barred," a high-ranking prelate told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The 59-year-old Hollande is plagued by low popularity and hopes to reconcile with a Catholic electorate largely hostile to his liberal policies.

He sees the visit as a chance to send "a strong message of dialogue and attention to the Catholics," an advisor said at a briefing ahead of the trip.

He may also be hoping some of the pontiff's popularity rubs off on him.

His quest will be made no easier by lawmakers' decision this week to greenlight a change in the country's abortion laws, effectively making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

Anger among staunch Catholics has also been fuelled by plans for the legalisation of assisted suicide - with French bishops speaking out this week to condemn a topic Hollande promised to support in his electoral campaign.

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