The Vatican said the papal visit to the earthquake zone had yet to be confirmed. However officials involved in the rescue and evacuation effort told Italian media they had been told to expect visit by the Pope on 1 May, a public holiday.
He would arrive by helicopter and meet rescue workers at the Finance Police barracks at L'Aquila, where a mass funeral for the earthquake victims was held a week ago. It is not clear however whether the Pope will hold a memorial mass.
The Pope, who is preparing for his trip to the Holy Land starting on 8 May, celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday (Thursday) at Caselgandolfo, the papal residence in the Alban Hills south of Rome. On Sunday he will mark the fourth anniversary of his election as pontiff in succession to John Paul II.
The death toll from the earthquake has risen to 295 after a 19 year old named as Tonino Colonna died in hospital from his injuries. The Cabinet led by Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, is to meet in L'Aquila this evening (Friday) to pass emergency measures to help those affected by the earthquake and launch a reconstruction plan estimated at 12 billion Euros.
Giulio Tremonti, the Finance Minister, said he was considering an "earthquake tax", but denied reports it would target the "super rich". Reports said the government would pay a third of the cost to families who rebuilt their homes themselves.
Families living in the tent cities set up around L'Aquila have sought to return to a semblance of normality, with teachers holding classes for children in temporary schools set up under canvas. Mr Berlusconi toured one such classroom, saying "We have to return as soon as possible to normal life", vowing that the tent cities would close by the winter, with all evacuees rehoused.
At the makeshift school Mr Berlusconi, asking "Do you know who I am?" and urging the children to "call me Papa", read them poems and handed out football shirts with the strip of AC Milan - which he owns - as well as Juventus.He said to one coloured priest "My compliments, you are very suntanned", and told an African Red Cross worker "I wish I had as much time to lie in the sun as you do".
Last month (March) he caused controversy by referring to Barack Obama as "suntanned", later saying that those who criticised him for his "gaffes" had no sense of humour. After the earthquake he told evacuees in tents they should think of themselves as on a camping holiday, and later told one female intensive care doctor at a field hospital "I wouldn't mind being resuscitated by you". However he has been widely praised for visiting the stricken area daily to oversee the rescue effort and raise spirits.
Mariastella Gelmini, the Education Minister, said returning to classes would help children overcome the trauma of having lost friends or relatives. Guido Bertolaso, head of the Civil Protection agency, said an estimated 20,000 people of the 50,000 people displaced would never be able to return to their homes because they were too badly damaged.
Twelve buildings described as "death traps" have been sealed off by police, including the student hostel in which eight students died. The death and destruction of the Abruzzo earthquake could have been avoided if a detailed survey carried out a decade ago identifying "strategic" buildings at risk from earthquakes throughout Italy had been acted on, it is alleged.
The study, which took 15 months to complete, identified 42,000 "vulnerable" public buildings in earthquake zones. In L'Aquila they included the Prefecture (office of the chief of police), university buildings, the land registry office, and the hospital, all of which partially collapsed in the earthquake ten days ago.
The 1999 survey, supervised by Franco Barberi, the then head of the Civil Protection Agency, recommended anti-seismic measures at over 500 buildings of "poor structural quality" in and around L'Aquila, including schools and churches, noting that the priority was "safeguarding human life". La Stampa said the failure to implement the plan was "a real Italian scandal", blaming a "lack of political will". Mr Bertolasi said "It seems preventive measures do not win votes".
Alfredo Rossini, the L'Aquila prosecutor, said he feared "criminal elements" were planning to steal or destroy labelled pieces of fallen masonry seized by police from specific buildings as evidence of shoddy construction. He said he was also concerned that Mafia-related firms would try to profit from the disaster by "infiltrating" reconstruction projects.
The Left accused Mr Berlusconi of censorship and authoritarianism for forcing RAI, the state broadcasting network, to sack a cartoonist, Vauro Senese, over satirical drawings shown on a television discussion show. One cartoon, aimed at government plans to ease restrictions on home extensions, showed a gravedigger standing beside a line of coffins under the caption "Increasing the cubic metres ...of the cemeteries."
Another depicted the Prime Minister as Emperor Nero among the ruins of L'Aquila. The cartoons appeared on "Annozero", which has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling centre right and almost alone among Italian TV programmes criticised some aspects of the relief effort. The programme was ordered to "to re-balance its coverage".
Mr Berlusconi owns Italy's main commercial television network Mediaset and as Prime Minister also has indirect control over RAI.