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Turkey build-up against Pope

Istanbul, Nov. 26 (AP): Thousands of people chanted slogans against Pope Benedict and waved banners against his upcoming visit to Turkey in a defiant display of the pro-Islamic anger that could await him on his first papal trip to a mostly Muslim nation.

About 25,000 people filled a square in a working-class district of Istanbul at a rally organised by an Islamist political party whose leaders have strongly denounced the Pope’s remarks in September that linked violence and Islam.

“No to the Pope,” protesters chanted, waving anti-Vatican signs and the red flag of the Saadet, or Felicity, party.

The demonstration highlighted the deep strains in Turkey before the Pope’s four-day visit, which begins on Tuesday.

At the Vatican today, Benedict expressed his “feelings of esteem and of sincere friendship” for Turks and their leaders. The Vatican spokesman also confirmed that the Pope would visit Istanbul’s famous 17th century Blue Mosque as “a sign of respect” to Muslims.

The mosque faces Haghia Sophia, a former Byzantine church that was converted to a mosque following the fall of the city to Muslim armies in 1453. It is now a museum.

But Benedict may also use his time in Turkey as a forum to demand that Islamic nations offer greater rights and protection to Christian minorities, such as the remnants of the once-thriving Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul.

Turkish officials hope to use the visit to promote their ambitions of joining the European Union and to showcase its secular political system. But pro-Islamic groups — which have been gaining strength for years — perceive Benedict as a symbol of western intolerance.

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