Sunday 22 April 2018

Kurds protest in Rome as Turkish president meets Pope

Francis and Recep Tayip Erdogan have made plain their concern over the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Pope and the Turkish president meet in the Vatican (AP)
The Pope and the Turkish president meet in the Vatican (AP)

By Frances D'Emilio

Kurdish and Italian protesters have clashed with police as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan met the Pope in the Vatican to discuss the status of Jerusalem, human rights and refugees.

Officers in riot gear blocked around 150 protesters near Rome’s Tiber River as Mr Edrogan paid the first Vatican visit by a Turkish head of state in 59 years.

One protester suffered a bloody gash on his head in the scuffle. Police said another was detained.

Turkey last month launched a military offensive in a Kurdish-held enclave in Syria. The Turkish government said the US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia there is a terrorist organisation and an extension of Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey.

Both the Turkish and Vatican sides described the private talks as cordial. Francis and Mr Erdogan have made plain their concern over the Trump administration’s decision two months ago to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mr Erdogan, in an interview with Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, said he and the Pope had already spoken by telephone about the Jerusalem issue and said both of them favoured working to maintain the status quo for the city considered holy by three religions.

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Pro-Kurdish demonstrators hold flares during a sit-in near the Vatican in Rome (AP)

In a brief statement, the Holy See said Francis and Mr Erdogan discussed the Middle East “with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law”.

The pope and Erdogan previously met in Turkey in 2014. The Vatican communique issued on Monday made no mention of the widespread international criticism of Turkey’s human rights record, including the arrests and firings of tens of thousands of Turkish citizens after a failed coup in 2016.

The Vatican said Mr Erdogan and Francis also discussed Turkey’s “reception of the many refugees and the challenges linked to this”. Turkey agreed to try to hold back the flood of refugees trying to reach Europe as part of a three billion euro deal with the European Union.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said Mr Erdogan and Francis also expressed the need to avoid “provocative statements that link Islam with terrorism”.

Referring to Jerusalem in December, Francis emphasised that the city is sacred to followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and prayed that no “new elements of tension” would be added to a world already suffering many conflicts.

Press Association

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