Blast near French church in Rome ahead of Hollande visit

Explosion in central Rome hours before French leader's Vatican visit

A small improvised bomb exploded near the French church of Saint Yves des Bretons on Vicolo della Campana in the early hours of 24 January, caused slight damage to the church and a number of parked cars.

It remains unclear who was behind the explosion but police say it could be linked to the arrival of French president François Hollande, in Rome for a private audience with Pope Francis on the morning of 24 January.

Topics up for discussion were expected to include France's position on euthanasia, gay marriage and abortion, as well as the conflict in Syria. The visit comes at an embarrassing time for both sides, as Hollande continues to face extensive media coverage about his alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet.

The last time a French head of state visited the Vatican was in October 2010, when former president Nicolas Sarkozy was received by Benedict XVI.

However unlike on Sarkozy's inaugural Vatican visit in 2007, Hollande will not travel to S. Giovanni in Laterano to receive the "chanoine d'honneur", a symbolic title traditionally awarded to French presidents.