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Pope arrives in Turkey amid heavy security and anger over earlier comments on Islam

Pope arrives in Turkey amid heavy security and anger over earlier comments on Islam

Pope Benedict XVI began his visit to Turkey Tuesday with a message of dialogue and "brotherhood" between Christians and Muslims in an attempt to ease anger over his perceived criticism of Islam.
Two months after the pope touched off fury across the Islamic world with remarks linking violence and the Prophet Muhammad, the Turkish prime minister _ in a last-minute change of plans _ was on hand at the airport in Turkey's capital to greet the pontiff.
"All feel the same responsibility in this difficult moment in history, let's work together," Benedict said during his flight from Rome to Ankara, where more than 3,000 police and sharpshooters joined a security effort that surpassed even the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush two years ago.
The pope used the first moments of his four-day trip to try to mend fences with Islamic leaders.
"We know that the scope of this trip is dialogue and brotherhood and the commitment for understanding between cultures ... and for reconciliation," he told reporters on his plane.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the pope, who wore traditional white robes and a white coat to ward off the chill, at the foot of the plane. The two men shook hands and walked on a red carpet to the heavily guarded airport terminal for a private discussion.
"I want to express happiness to see you and your delegation in our country," Erdogan told the pope. He described the pope's visit as "very meaningful."
Erdogan, who was bound for a NATO summit in Latvia, had only announced the day before that he would make time to meet Benedict in a nation where many people view the pope with suspicion. Erdogan's political party has Islamic roots, though the government is secular.
In his first official act, Benedict later visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, and wrote a message in a guest book calling Turkey "a meeting point of different religions and cultures and a bridge between Asia and Europe."
Turkish police monitored the highway leading to Ankara from the airport, where Turkish and Vatican flags waved in a light breeze. Snipers climbed atop buildings and hilltops. In wooded areas along the route, soldiers in camouflage fatigues set up observations points and sniffer dogs passed along bridges.
Benedict's journey is extraordinarily sensitive, a closely watched pilgrimage full of symbolism that could offer hope of religious reconciliation, or deepen what many say is a growing divide between the Christian and Islamic worlds.
The outcome depends partly on the words and gestures of Benedict, who triggered an outcry in September when he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor who characterized the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman."
The Vatican said the speech was an attempt to highlight the incompatibility of faith and violence, and Benedict later expressed regret for the violent Muslim backlash.
In Ankara, a small protest was held before the pope's arrival. "You're not welcome, Pope," read a protest banner.
The original goal of the pope's trip to Turkey was to meet Bartholomew I, leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians. The two major branches of Christianity represented by Bartholomew and Benedict split in 1054 over differences in opinion on the power of the papacy, and the two spiritual heads will meet in an attempt to breach the divide and reunite the churches.
Benedict leaves Ankara on Wednesday for Ephesus, where the Virgin Mary is thought to have spent her last years, and will then travel to Istanbul, a former Christian metropolis known as Constantinople until Ottoman Turks conquered it in 1453.
Shortly before the pope's arrival, Erdogan said he hoped the visit would promote peace, and he urged Turks to show traditional hospitality and shun provocations by "marginal" circles.
"We hope that this visit will help advance the alliance of civilizations and global peace," Erdogan told lawmakers in parliament.
Thousands of police officers were assigned to guard the pope in the dusty, sprawling capital. Police reinforced security around the Vatican's embassy, erecting a line of police barricades as sharpshooters took up positions in surrounding buildings.
Police also staked out spots in Istanbul, where Benedict will spend most of his four days in Turkey.
"We have taken all the necessary measures and observations of the route the pope (will travel) and the places the pope will visit," Istanbul police spokesman Ismail Caliskan said.
Turkish newspapers voiced both hope and outrage over the trip.
"A forced guest!" said the pro-Islamic newspaper Vakit in a front page headline.
An editorial in the liberal Milliyet newspaper described the trip as a "historic chance to scatter black clouds that are hanging between the Islamic and the Western world."
On Monday, a group of 100 pro-Islamic demonstrators displayed a petition demanding that the Haghia Sophia, now a museum in Istanbul, be declared a mosque and opened to worship for Muslims.
The Haghia Sophia was built in the 6th century as a Christian church, but was converted to a mosque in 1453 when Islamic armies conquered the city _ then a Christian metropolis called Constantinople.


Updated : 2021-10-18 16:35 GMT+08:00