Rome - Black smoke signaling an inconclusive vote came out at 7:42 pm local time from the chimney on the roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City where the conclave to elect the new pope started on Tuesday.
The 115 cardinals eligible to vote, as they are aged below 80, held their first voting session in the evening after entering the chapel that hosts Michelangelo's frescoed ceiling.
Cardinals hold four ballots a day and the next pontiff will have to win the votes of two thirds, or 77. Among the electors from 48 countries, 60 were European nationals, of which nearly a half from Italy.
They were sworn to secrecy and shut off from every contact with the outside world. A shortlist of names was expected to emerge from the first round of votes, after which cardinals will be more likely to choose from this selection, the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
Early on Tuesday, cardinals attended the pre-conclave mass in St Peter's Basilica, praying for the next Rome bishop to be "generous-hearted”.
Thousands of believers as well as more than 6 000 international journalists were waiting for white smoke drifting out of the chimney and the sound of church bells ringing to announce the new pope.
Pope emeritus Benedict XVI resigned on 28 February at the age of 85, after shocking the world by announcing that he no longer had the mental and physical strengths to continue his office.
He was the first pontiff in 600 years to step down. – SAnews.gov.za-Xinhua