Tens of thousands of people chanted slogans against Pope Benedict XVI and waved banners yesterday against his upcoming visit in a defiant display of the pro-Islamic anger that could await the pontiff on his first papal trip to a mostly Muslim nation.
About 25,000 people filled a square in a working-class district of Istanbul at a rally organized by an Islamist political party whose leaders have strongly denounced the pope's remarks in September that linked violence and Islam.
"No to the pope," protesters chanted, waving anti-Vatican signs and the red flag of the Saadet, or Felicity, party.
The demonstration highlighted the deep strains in Turkey before the pope's four-day visit, which begins tomorrow.
Turkish officials hope to use the visit to promote their ambitions of joining the EU and to showcase its secular political system. But pro-Islamic groups -- which have been gaining strength for years -- perceive Benedict as a symbol of Western intolerance and injustices against Muslims.
The pope plans to first meet with political and Muslim religious leaders in the capital, Ankara. He later heads to Istanbul -- the ancient Christian capital Constantinople -- to be hosted by the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.