Received March 21

Headline: Pope Paul upbraided UK, Italian PMs: paper -- Detail Story

ROME: Pope John Paul II lost his temper with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi in recent discussions at the Vatican on a possible war in Iraq , a Catholic leaning newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"John Paul II used words and gestures bordering on a diplomatic incident," in his audience with Blair on Feb 22, the daily said.

A luncheon meeting with Berlusconi and the undersecretary at the prime minister's office, Gianni Letta, on March 4 scarcely went better, according to the newspaper.

Vatican sources told the newspaper the pope had "raised his voice, pointed an accusing finger at the two of them, and even banged his fist on the table," because he disagreed with Italy's support for a US-led war on Iraq.

Mr Berlusconi's spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti slammed the report, carried in the centre-left daily Europa, as "a bizarre, shameful and completely false reconstruction."

Europa is the party newspaper of the Catholic-leaning Daisy group of parties in the opposition centre-left Olive Tree coalition.

Contacted by AFP, the newspaper said it stood by its story which came from a highly placed ecclesiastical source.

John Paul II, who will be 83 in May, has been one of the staunchest opponents of a US-led war on Iraq and has used his moral position as leader of the worlds 1.5 billion Catholics to lead a diplomatic offensive aimed at averting war.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini told reporters late on Wednesday that people should not try to politicise the reports.

"The pope is not political, his is a spiritual message. He condemns war, it would be astonishing if he didn't. But that doesn't mean that he is being political, as some would have us believe."