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Thousands in Turkey Protest Pope's Visit

  • VOA News

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered on Sunday in Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, to denounce a visit later in the week by Pope Benedict.

Demonstrators chanted Islamist slogans and waved banners saying "the pope is not welcome." Authorities say the protesters, who rallied peacefully, were monitored by four thousand Turkish police, backed by armored vehicles and police helicopters.

Anger toward the pontiff spread across much of the Islamic world in September, after Pope Benedict quoted negative comments about Islam made by a 14th century Byzantine emperor. He said he did not share those views.

Speaking today at the Vatican, the pope said he looked forward to the visit as a chance to convey his "esteem and sincere friendship" to Turkey and to the Turkish people.

The Vatican confirmed Sunday that Pope Benedict will visit Istanbul's renowned Blue Mosque during his four-day pilgrimage, which starts Tuesday.

He will also visit Hagia Sophia -- a sixth century Byzantine church that was converted to a Mosque in the 15th century by the Ottomans. The edifice has served as a museum since 1935.
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