Tue, Feb 06, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Erdogan meets pope as protests banned

MAKING THE ROUNDS:The Turkish president was also to visit his Italian counterpart and the prime minister to discuss illegal immigration, defense and EU membership

AFP, VATICAN CITY

Pope Francis, third right, exchanges gifts with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, fourth right, and his wife, Emine Erdogan, right, yesterday during a private audience at the Vatican.

Photo: EPA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday met Pope Francis while police enforced a protest ban in central Rome as feelings run high over Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria.

For the first such visit by a Turkish leader in 59 years, the Italian authorities imposed a 24-hour ban on demonstrations which covered Erdogan’s arrival late on Sunday to his departure yesterday evening.

A total of 3,500 police were deployed for the visit.

Nevertheless a sit-in protest by 200 people, organized by a Kurdish association in Italy, was scheduled to take place not far from the Vatican.

Turkey on Jan. 20 launched its “Olive Branch” operation against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara sees as a terror group and a threat to Turkish territory.

Erdogan, returning a visit made by the pope to Turkey in 2014, spoke privately with Francis for about 50 minutes in the pontiff’s frescoed study in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which he uses mostly for ceremonial purposes.

At the end of the private part of the meeting, the pope gave Erdogan a bronze medallion showing an angel embracing the northern and southern hemispheres while overcoming the opposition of a dragon.

“This is the angel of peace who strangles the demon of war,” the pope told Erdogan as he gave him the medallion, made by the Italian artist Guido Verol. “[It is] a symbol of a world based on peace an justice.”

The public part of the meeting, with reporters and Erdogan’s entourage, was cordial, although both men seemed stiff at the start while seated at the pope’s desk before journalists were ushered out.

Ahead of the meeting, Erdogan’s convoy arrived at a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, which was under heavy police protection.

Erdogan was likely to thank the pontiff for opposing the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“We are both in favor of the status quo and we have the will to protect it,” Erdogan said in an interview published on Sunday.

Erdogan’s visit to Italy is also to include a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, with illegal immigration, defense and EU membership likely on the agenda.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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