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Runners and riders in papal race

Here are some of the possible contenders to replace Pope Benedict XVI, who has resigned as pontiff, the first to do so for nearly 600 years.

:: Cardinal Marc Ouellet, 68, the Canadian head of the Vatican's office for bishops.

Archbishop of Quebec between 2003 and 2010, he spent 10 years as a missionary priest in Colombia, and is fluent in a range of languages. He is known as a strong defender of orthodoxy and is said to come from the same school of theological thought as Pope Benedict.

:: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, 70, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

A former academic theologian and Biblical scholar, he is noted for his work encouraging dialogue between believers and non-believers and his "outreach" to science. He was chosen this year by Pope Benedict to lead the Vatican's Lenten spiritual retreat - a papal favour which could mark him out as a frontrunner.

:: Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, 69, an Argentinian and prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

A "consummate" Vatican insider and viewed as a pair of "safe hands", he announced Pope John Paul II's death to the world on April 2, 2005, saying: "We all feel like orphans this evening."

His experience as head of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches is said to have given him a special understanding of the experience of Christians in the Middle East including the plight of the Christian population in Iraq following the war in 2003.

:: Cardinal Odilo Scherer, 63, Archbishop of Sao Paolo in Brazil.

He is head of the largest diocese in the world's largest Catholic country and spent several years working at the congregation for bishops at the Vatican. A German Brazilian by birth, he is seen as the strongest Latin American candidate.

:: Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, 68, Archbishop of Vienna.

An intellectual and a scholar who studied under Pope Benedict and is close to the outgoing pope. He is currently dealing with a rebellion in Austria by Catholics who are calling for reform of the Church in areas such as priestly celibacy and the role of women. The cardinals may not want to elect two German-speaking popes in a row.

:: Cardinal Angelo Scola, 71, Archbishop of Milan.

Cardinal Scola was said to have been "papabile" - a possible contender for pope - during the conclave to replace Pope John Paul II in 2005, and is an influential philosopher and theologian.

He is a member of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), responsible for ensuring Catholic orthodoxy.

:: Cardinal Luis Tagle, 55, Archbishop of Manila, Philippines.

Highly praised and described by Vatican commentator John Allen as a "genuine intellectual with a common touch". He is seen as an outside chance to be elected because he is considered too young. If elected at 55, he could be pope for more than 30 years.

:: Cardinal Peter Turkson, 64, from Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Charismatic and approachable, Cardinal Turkson is a popular figure and would be the first pope from Africa since Gelasius I more than 1,500 years ago.

But the department he heads is not powerful within the Roman curia, and he has raised eyebrows by his willingness to discuss his chances of becoming pope. He is also seen by some as being gaffe-prone.

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