At the start of a controversial trip to Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI has apparently made a U-turn on his previous position on Ankara becoming an EU member. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the Pontiff told him of his wish for Turkey to join the bloc. One of the first stops for Benedict, who said the main purpose of his trip was to foster peace and better understanding between Christians and Muslims, was the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The Pope angered many in the Muslim world in a speech in September in which he said Islam was a violent and irrational religion. In talks with the Pontiff, Turkey’s top religious official Ali Bardakoglu spoke out against what he called growing Islamophobia, which he said spreads the idea that Islam contains and encourages violence.
Fears of large demonstrations against the Pope’s visit to this predominantly Muslim country have so far failed to materialise – two small peaceful protests were reported in Ankara on Tuesday. The next leg of the Pope’s trip is Istanbul where he is due to meet the head of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians Patriarch Bartholomew for talks on Christian unity.
There were peaceful protests in Istanbul last week ahead of Benedict’s visit. Thousands of extra police have been mobilised with snipers deployed along the Pope’s route.