ISTANBUL, Turkey - Tens of thousands of protesters denounced Pope Benedict
XVI as an enemy of Islam at a rally Sunday that underlined deep divisions
straining Turkey ahead of the pontiff's visit this week.
Officials hoping to promote closer
ties with the West urged calm, but Islamic groups wary of Western ways are
united in anger over a speech Benedict gave two months ago in which he quoted a
medieval text that linked Islam to violence.
Turkish demonstrators display anti-pope banners and wave
flags of the Felicity Party during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday,
Nov. 26, 2006. [AP]
Chants of "No to the pope!" rose among nearly 25,000 demonstrators at every
mention of his remarks on violence and the Prophet Muhammad. Many protesters
wore headbands with anti-pope slogans and waved placards that included a
depiction of Benedict as the grim reaper.
The protest, organized by an Islamist political party, was the largest mass
gathering so far against Benedict's four-day visit scheduled to begin
Tuesday - his first papal journey to a mostly Muslim nation. The outcry
also was designed to rattle Turkey's establishment.
Turkish officials hope to use the visit to promote their ambitions of
becoming the first Muslim nation in the European Union and showcase Turkey's
secular political system. But Islamic groups, which have been gaining strength,
see Benedict as a symbol of Western intolerance and injustices against Muslims.
"The pope is not wanted here," said Kubra Yigitoglu, a 20-year-old protester
wearing a head scarf, ankle-length coat and cowboy boots.
Nearby, a large banner was raised amid a sea of red flags of the Saadet, or
Felicity, party. It called the Vatican "a source of terror."