Sat, Sep 23, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Pope to meet with Muslims amid calls that he be removed

AP AND AFP , VATICAN CITY AND LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Pope Benedict XVI has invited representatives of Muslim countries to meet next week at his summer residence, the Vatican said yesterday.

The pope will give an audience to ambassadors to the Holy See of predominantly Muslim countries at Castel Gandolfo on Monday, the Vatican said.

Also expected to take part in the audience is a Muslim council that advised the Italian government on integration issues, the ANSA news agency said.

The Vatican has been seeking to defuse anger across the Muslim world that followed the pope's remarks about Islam in Germany last week.

Muslim scholars and religious leaders at a convention in Pakistan on Thursday demanded the removal of the pope, saying his apology for comments linking Islam to violence was not acceptable.

"The pope has committed blasphemy against our Great Prophet, he should be removed," a resolution adopted by the gathering said.

"The apology and explanation given by the pope is rejected," it said.

The convention, held at a mosque in the eastern city of Lahore, was attended by about 100 Muslim scholars, leaders of some two dozen religious parties and more than 500 party members and supporters, witnesses said.

It was convened to discuss the pope, who earlier this month triggered controversy among Muslims across the globe after he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who said innovations introduced by the Prophet Mohammed were "evil and inhuman."

The pontiff later said he was "deeply sorry" for the outrage triggered by his speech at a German university and stressed that the passages he quoted did not express his personal opinion.

"The pope's statement against Prophet Mohammed was not unintentional" Sajid Mir, a religious scholar and an MP, told reporters after the convention.

"He has opened a new and an organized front against Islam and Muslims should prepare themselves for jihad because the pope's insulting remarks against Islam follow [US] President George W Bush's statement on crusades," he said.

"We will not allow anybody to degrade our prophet," he added.

The convention called on people across Pakistan to stage protest demonstrations against the pope on Friday.

On Monday Muslims in Pakistani Kashmir burnt an effigy of the pope, while protest rallies were earlier held in major Pakistani cities.

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