Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Turks Seize Hagia Sophia to Protest Papal Visit

From the AP:

ISTANBUL, Turkey - About 40 members of a nationalist party occupied one of Istanbul's most famous buildings, the Haghia Sophia, on Wednesday to protest the visit next week of Pope Benedict XVI, police said.

The protesters belong to the Great Unity Party, a far right-wing group that has previously staged demonstrations against the planned visit. Police said they were preparing to enter the former Byzantine church, which was converted into a mosque before becoming a museum, to remove the protesters.

The Haghia Sophia is on the pope's list of stops during his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip to Turkey.

Benedict is making his first trip to a Muslim nation at a time of heightened tensions between the West and Islam. It is the pope himself who has recently been at the center of those tensions.

The Muslim world erupted in protest after Benedict delivered a speech in September in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

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