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Pope says sorry over reaction to Islam speech

Written by: Staff
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VATICAN CITY, Sep 17: Pope Benedict said that he was ''deeply sorry'' at the anger caused by his remarks on Islam and said a quote he used from a medieval text about holy wars did not reflect his personal thoughts.

The Pope had been under pressure to issue a personal apology after his speech last week in Germany sparked fury in the Muslim world. The Vatican issued a statement yesterday saying he regretted the impact of his comments.

''I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims,'' he told pilgrims at his Castelgandolfo summer residence.

''These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect,'' he said.

The comments, part of his regular Sunday Angelus blessing, came at his first public appearance since making the comments on Tuesday. Italian media said security at Castelgandolfo had been tightened.

It was not immediately clear if the apology would go far enough for Muslim countries and religious groups who remained angry at what they said portrayed Islam as a religion tainted with violence.

The Vatican said yesterday the Pope was sorry Muslims had been offended and that his comments had been misconstrued.

In Iran, theological schools closed today in protest at the Pope and Etemad-e Melli newspaper said senior clerics demanded an immediate apology. The English-language Tehran Times called his remarks ''code words for the start of a new crusade''.

Morocco withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican yesterday, calling the Pope's remarks ''offensive'', while Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood -- the country's main opposition force -- said the statement issued by the Vatican was not enough.

''We feel he has committed a grave error against us and that this mistake will only be removed through a personal apology,'' said the Brotherhood's deputy leader, Mohammed Habib.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the country's main Shi'ite political parties, had also called for the Pope to apologise ''clearly and honestly''.

SPEECH

In the speech in Germany, the Pope referred to criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus. The emperor said everything Mohammad brought was evil ''such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached''.

Yemen's president denounced the Pontiff, and Egypt, Iraq and Kuwait summoned the Vatican's envoys. Eight churches, some Catholic, in the West Bank and Gaza have been attacked since Friday, as well as one in Iraq, causing minor damage.

The backlash over the Pope's comments had cast doubt on his planned visit to Turkey in November, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim with roots in political Islam, calling the Pope's comments ''ugly and unfortunate''.

However, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said today he expected the visit to go ahead. Aksam newspaper said Gul had written to Benedict urging him not to cancel, saying it was an opportunity to foster dialogue between different cultures.

Roman Catholic bishops based in Turkey will meet in Istanbul tomorrow to discuss the visit, newspapers said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German politicians defended Benedict's comments, saying he had been misunderstood.

''It was an invitation to dialogue between religions,'' Merkel told the mass circulation Bild newspaper.

Angry Muslim leaders flung what they saw as allegations of violence back at the West.

''How can (the Pope) imply that Muslims are the creators of terrorism in the world while it is the followers of Christianity who have been aggressive against every country of the Islamic world?'' prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Odeh said. ''Who attacked Afghanistan and who invaded Iraq?''

REUTERS

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