Pope receives Argentine president

Vatican City, Mar 18 (EFE).- Pope Francis I received his countrywoman, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, on Monday for a private audience, the Vatican spokesman said.

The pontiff and his guest had lunch following the 20-minute meeting, Federico Lombardi said.

Cristina Fernandez is the first head of state received by the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio since he became pope last week.

The pontiff intended the meeting as a "gesture of courtesy and affection" toward the president and the Argentine people, Lombardi told Efe.

It was not a formal visit, the spokesman emphasized.

The 76-year-old Francis, who is both the first Jesuit and the first Latin American to reach the papacy, has often been at odds with Fernandez and her late predecessor - and husband - Nestor Kirchner.

Bergoglio clashed with the government over Fernandez's bid to impose a windfall-profits levy on farm exports, the approval of a law authorizing same-sex marriage and the battle over abortion rights.

The erstwhile archbishop of Buenos Aires and the Argentine president last met privately in 2010.

Fernandez and her party will be among some 150 national delegations attending Tuesday's Mass to mark the formal installation of Francis as pope.