Erdogan meets Pope amid protests in Rome

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Vatican City, Feb 5 (IANS) Pope Francis welcomed Turkey’s President to the Vatican on Monday for a meeting that took place amid heightened security and pro-Kurdish protests in Rome.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived with his 16-strong entourage, which included his wife, Emine Erdogan, and attended a closed-door meeting with the head of the Catholic Church that lasted for 50 minutes, longer than the normal time period afforded to visiting world leaders, Efe reported.

Although the Vatican was yet to publish an outline of the pair’s discussion, the controversy over the status of Jerusalem, which US President Donald Trump recognised as the capital of Israel, was set to be high on the agenda.

Erdogan has led the backlash against Trump’s decision, calling instead for the ancient holy city, the majority-Palestinian east of which is occupied by Israel since 1967, to be officially recognised as the capital of Palestine.

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It was the first visit by a Turkish President to the Vatican in 59 years and one that was met with protests in the Italian capital, Rome, as pro-Kurdish demonstrators vented their opposition to Erdogan’s military incursion against US-backed Kurdish YPG militias in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.

Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist affiliate of its more habitual home grown enemy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a low-level insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades.

As is customary, Francis and Erdogan swapped parting gifts. The Turkish president gave the Pope a panoramic picture of Istanbul and several books and in return received a medallion that Francis said represented the angel of peace and justice against the demon of war.

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