Announcing details of the Pope's visit, the Vatican said yesterday that the first stop on his four-day tour, on November 28, would be at the tomb of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey, after which he would meet Turkish dignitaries.
Among these will be Ali Bardakoglu, Turkey's religious affairs chief, who said the Pope's September 12 speech was ''extremely regrettable and worrying ... both for the Christian world and for the common peace of humanity''.
Bardakoglu later accepted Benedict's expressions of regret for offence caused by the lecture, which quoted 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus saying that everything the Prophet Mohammad brought was evil, ''such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached''.
The Pope said later he had been trying to ''explain that religion and violence do not go together but religion and reason do.'' The lecture sparked a violent reaction in many Muslim countries and some Turkish activists called for the trip to be cancelled. On November 2 a man was arrested for firing a weapon in front of the Italian consulate in Istanbul in protest against the Pope's visit.
The controversy threatens to overshadow a trip which was meant to focus on a discussion on Christian unity between the Pope and the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, on November 29.
Unusually for such a high-level visit, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will not greet the Pope. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, visiting Rome earlier this week, denied the media interpretation that Erdogan was snubbing the Pontiff.
Erdogan's office has said he will be at a NATO summit in Latvia for the first two days of the Pope's November 28 - December 1 trip, and busy with other meetings in Turkey after that.
Reuters SP RN0920