The Pope has arrived in the Turkey at the start of a highly-charged four-day trip, the first of his pontificate to a mainly Muslim country. Benedict XVI has described his visit as an opportunity for reconcilliation and dialogue between Christians and Muslims In a last-minute change of plan, he was met at the airport by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Formerly an opponent to Turkey joining the EU, the Pope has reportedly told Erdogan that he has changed his mind and now supports Ankara’s membership bid. The Pope angered many Muslims in September, on another foreign trip – to Germany – with remarks that seemed to describe Islam as an violent religion. He later expressed regret for the pain caused by the comments – which he stressed were not his own views – but failed to give a full apology.
While in Ankara, Benedict XVI paid his respects at the mausoleum of Ataturk – the much-revered founder of modern Turkey. In what is being seen as a conciliatory gesture, the pontiff will also visit Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque – only the second Roman Catholic leader to do so.
But tens of thousands of Turks protested his visit at the weekend and smaller demonstrations have taken place in the capital today. Security is extremely tight for his visit. Some 15,000 police officers have been deployed to guard him and he will move around in an armoured car.