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Turkey’s PM Erdogan says he will meet pope

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.
/ Source: Reuters

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, accused of snubbing Pope Benedict during his first official visit to a Muslim country, has now agreed to meet the pontiff in Ankara on Tuesday, a spokesman said on Monday.

Many Turks, like much of the Muslim world, expressed anger in September after the pope made comments taken as indicating he believed Islam was violent and irrational.

On Sunday, some 20,000 Muslims held an anti-pope rally in Istanbul in a peaceful protest against Benedict’s visit. The visit is billed as an opportunity to heal wounds with the Muslim world.

Speaking in the Vatican on Sunday, Benedict said he wanted the visit to show his “esteem and sincere friendship” for Turkey and its people.

Erdogan, a Muslim, was accused of seeking short-term political gains by not meeting Benedict. He has rejected those accusations, saying he was busy attending a NATO summit in Riga and later with other domestic appointments.

“The prime minister will meet the pope and an adjustment (in plans) has been made accordingly,” government spokesman Akif Beki told reporters in Ankara. Erdogan will meet the pope at Ankara’s airport before he takes off for Riga.

Benedict’s Nov. 28-Dec. 1 visit is billed as an opportunity to heal the wounds between Muslims and Christians and also to show Europeans skeptical of Turkey that the country was an open and democratic society worthy of the EU membership it seeks.