Pope meets Turkish President amidst protest

Pope Francis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met privately on Monday at the Vatican. This is the first visit by a Turkish head of state to the Vatican in 59 years.

Erdoğan was returning a visit Francis made to Turkey in 2014.

Vatican sources say that at the meeting Francis and Erdoğan discussed “bilateral relations between the Holy See and Turkey, the situation within the country and the condition of the Catholic community, Turkey’s role in receiving refugees and the challenges this poses”.

They also discussed “the situation in 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.”

Both Erdogan and Francis are opposed to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

While they were meeting, Kurdish protestors holding signs calling Turkey a state-sponsor of terrorism tried to enter St. Peter’s Square, but police prevented them from doing so.

They were protesting about Turkey’s military offensive on Kurdish areas in northern Syria, which began on 20 January, and has resulted in civilian casualties.

Reports say several protesters also held signs calling for the release of Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan is a Kurdish nationalist leader who has been jailed in Turkey since 1999.

A group of international press freedom groups also expressed concern about the Pope’s meeting with Erdoğan. They released an open letter calling on the pope to bring up Turkey’s crackdown on independent journalists with Erdoğan.

Signatories included the International Press Institute, European Center for Press and Media Freedom, PEN International, and Reporters without Borders.

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