VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2011 ( Benedict XVI is offering prayers for peace in Ivory Coast and is expressing closeness to the victims of violence in that country.

Today in his general audience, the Pope spoke about the people of Ivory Coast "traumatized by painful internal conflicts and grave social and political tensions."

In that country, political conflict has escalated into military clashes between supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo and those of President-elect Alassane Ouattara. Some 10,000 people have been displaced.

Speaking in French, the Pontiff said, "While I express my closeness to all those who have lost a loved one or suffer as a result of the violence, I make an urgent appeal for the process of constructive dialogue for the common good to begin as quickly as possible."

He continued: "The dramatic clashes necessitate the urgent restoration of respect and peaceful co-existence. Every effort must be made to this end."

The Holy Father announced that he is sending Cardinal Peter Kodwo Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to "that noble country" to "express my solidarity and that of the universal Church with the victims of the conflict, and to encourage reconciliation and peace."

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Kutwa of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, told Fides in response: "We are pleased about the Holy Father's words and we thank him for them. We hope that his voice is heard."