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Pope still expected to visit Turkey - minister

Written by: Staff
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ANKARA, Sep 17 (Reuters) Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul today said he expected Pope Benedict to visit Turkey as planned in November despite anger among Muslims worldwide over comments made by the Pontiff about Islam.

''From our point of view, there is no question of any change (in the visit),'' Gul told reporters at Ankara airport before heading to New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly.

Aksam newspaper said today that Gul had written to Benedict urging him not to cancel his visit to Turkey, scheduled for November 28-30, saying it was an important opportunity to foster dialogue between different cultures.

''The responsibility of spiritual and political leaders is to emphasise the similarities, not the differences, between religions,'' Aksam quoted Gul as saying in his letter.

Some politicians and trade union officials in Muslim but secular Turkey have suggested the invitation to Pope Benedict should be withdrawn if he fails to give a full apology for comments about Islam made in a lecture in his native Germany last week.

In the speech, Pope Benedict quoted a medieval scholar who said Islam's Prophet Mohammad had brought no good and Muslims spread their faith by force.

He has said he is sorry that parts of the speech have caused offense.

Gul described the Pope's remarks as ''unfortunate'' and said they would hamper efforts to promote understanding between cultures and religions at a time of high global tensions.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan yesterday urged Benedict to apologise for his ''ugly'' remarks, saying they were those of ''a politician rather than a man of religion''.

Asked whether the Pope should still visit Turkey, Erdogan said: ''I do not know.'' Erdogan spoke before the Vatican issued a statement saying the Pope was sorry for any offence his remarks may have caused.

Erdogan and Gul are pious Muslims whose ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has its roots in political Islam.

They have championed liberal reforms aimed at taking Turkey into the European Union. Benedict triggered dismay in Ankara before becoming Pope when he expressed opposition to Turkey's EU membership, saying the country did not fit in Europe.

REUTERS LL BD1424

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