Some 20,000 Muslims held an anti-pope rally in Istanbul on Sunday in a peaceful protest against Pope Benedict’s visit to Turkey this week.
Benedict, due to begin his first official visit to a Muslim country next Tuesday, angered many Muslims in September with a speech they took as an insult to Islam. He later expressed regret but did not offer an apology.
Youths wearing headbands with Islamic scripts, beating drums and waving Turkish flags chanted “the pope made a mistake, our patience has run out.”
The visit is billed as an opportunity to heal wounds with the Muslim world after the pope quoted a Byzantine emperor saying Islam was violent and irrational. He has said he did not share that view.
Speaking in the Vatican on Sunday, Benedict said he wanted the visit to show his “esteem and sincere friendship” for Turkey and its people.
The Islamist Felicity party organizing the protest under the banner “against the crusader alliance” -- a reference to the crusaders who crossed Anatolia 1,000 years ago their way to Jerusalem -- had expected an attendance of at least 75,000.
“Muslims don’t want the pope in their lands. Look at the suffering which they spread in Palestine, Iraq and Chechnya. I link this to Christianity,” said Ferdi Borekci, a 28-year-old architect.