Pope to arrive in Azerbaijan today

 Pope John Paul II is due to begin his visit to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan today.

For the first time in his 24-year papacy he will be breaking with tradition and staying at a hotel rather than with the local church.

Ilgar Nuri, the administrator of the Irshad Hotel in central Baku, told the BBC he was aware of the huge responsibility his establishment had taken on.

"The Pope hasn't stayed in a hotel for many years," he said.

"That is why we are trying to make it as comfortable for him as possible."

On Thursday, The Pope will celebrate Mass in Baku's Handball Palace and meet the Muslim leader of the Caucasus, the local Orthodox bishop and the head of the Jewish community, before travelling on to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.