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Suffering from flu, Pope Francis cancels COP28 trip

ROME, Italy — Pope Francis cancelled his upcoming trip to Dubai for the COP28 climate talks Tuesday, on the advice of doctors concerned over his recent flu-like symptoms, the Vatican said.

The 86-year-old, who has made protecting the environment a cornerstone of his 10-year papacy, had planned to become the first pontiff to attend the UN event since the process began in 1995.

"Although the Holy Father's general clinical picture has improved with regard to his flu-like condition and inflammation of the respiratory tract, doctors have asked the Pope not to make the trip planned for the coming days to Dubai," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement. 

"Pope Francis accepted the doctors' request with great regret and the trip is therefore cancelled," Bruni said. 

Bruni -- who just hours earlier had told a briefing that the pope would be attending -- added that the pope still wished to be part of discussions in Dubai, without specifying.

With Francis's withdrawal from the conference, which begins Thursday, COP 28 will lose one of the highest profile advocates of the environment, a moral authority recognisable on the global stage whose words some believed could nudge leaders to take concrete action. 

Francis, who turns 87 next month, has suffered a series of health issues in recent years, from knee and hip pain to an inflamed colon and most recently, hernia surgery in June. 

On Saturday, he cancelled events due to what the Vatican called "light flu symptoms". It said that a CT scan had ruled out "risks of pulmonary complications".

The pope was forced to recite the traditional Angelus prayer on Sunday from his residence rather than overlooking St Peter's Square.

But Bruni said the pope would lead his weekly audience on Wednesday morning as planned. 

The leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, more than half of whom live in the developing world, Francis has long insisted on the link between climate change and poverty, with the world's most marginalised paying the highest price for global warming.

In Dubai, the pope was expected to use the platform to castigate countries for a lack of action on climate change, and seek to persuade them to dramatically cut their