Turks blast Pope on eve of arrival

Sandro Contenta

Outrage over past remarks about Islam cast pall over country's bid to join EU

ISTANBUL—Tens of thousands of Turks have protested the Pope's visit to this Muslim country with placards and chants that denounced Benedict XVI as an enemy of Islam.

The protest of more than 25,000 people yesterday was an extraordinary sight in an officially secular country, where the government is counting on a smooth papal visit to boost Turkey's chances of joining the European Union.

"For Western civilization to develop it needs an enemy and the Pope openly says that this enemy is Islam," Recai Kutan, chairman of the Islamist Saadet Party, told the crowd.

The protestors jammed one of Istanbul's major boulevards, waving banners and Turkish flags under the gaze of 4,000 police backed by armoured vehicles and hovering helicopters.

One large English-language poster read, "Go home Pope" and showed the pontiff's face on the head of a pig, blood oozing from his mouth.

Another demanded he apologize for wars from the Christian crusades to Iraq. One accused the Vatican of producing terror while another said, "Jesus is not the son of God, he is a prophet of Islam."

In Rome, the spiritual leader of the world's Roman Catholics asked thousands of followers gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray for the success of his four-day trip to Turkey, which begins tomorrow.

"I want to send a cordial greeting to the dear Turkish people, rich in history and culture," the Pope said yesterday during his weekly noon address. "To these people and their representatives I express feelings of esteem and sincere friendship."

Benedict XVI sparked outrage in much of the Muslim world with a September speech in Germany, where he suggested Islam was rooted in violence. He later expressed regret for the offence his comments may have caused, but stopped short of the apology many in Turkey are demanding.

The Pope first angered many Turks in 2004 when, as the powerful Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he rejected the country's bid to join the 25-nation European Union, describing its Muslim faith as being "in permanent contrast" to Europe's Christian heritage.

His main mission is to support Turkey's dwindling Christian communities and work to heal a 1,000-year-old rift with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, regarded by many as the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Posted Nov. 27, 2006, The Star


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