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Turkey Prepares for Pope's Visit


Turkish authorities are preparing for Pope Benedict's arrival on Tuesday. They are taking massive security measures, deploying thousands of police officers. Despite protests against the pope's visit, there are many Turks who say it is an opportunity for Turkey to show the world its best side. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Istanbul.

In Istanbul, police officers could be seen patrolling major avenues and areas that the pope will be visiting. Thousands are being deployed.

Many were receiving their instructions Monday morning on the busy Kennedy Avenue, which borders the Bosporus, along which the pope will travel after he arrives in Istanbul.

Security officials were also carefully watching tourists and locals around Aya Sophya, which used to be a church, then a mosque and later was converted to a museum.

The pope will visit the site on Thursday, and, the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing militant group, has planned a protest not far from it for the same day.

Protests against the pope's visit have already been taking place in Istanbul. But not everyone is against Benedict's arrival.

35 -year-old Can Iliris is a tour guide. He says, the pope is welcome, despite the comments he cited about Islam earlier this year, which angered Muslims so much.

"Turkey is a very important country, where a lot of cultures -- they live in this country. Unfortunately, he had some speeches against Muslims, but this is a good opportunity for him to fix his words, and Turkish people, I know, welcome him in Turkey," he said.

Analysts say the pope will likely use the opportunity of the visit to try to mend relations with Muslims. He is hoping also to visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

It will be the second time a pope visits a mosque. The Vatican says this stop is a good will gesture on the pope's part.

Many in the streets in the area of Sultanahmet, where the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophya are located, say that the security measures are necessary, but not because this is Turkey.

Iliris said, "Security now is all over the world. If you go in Spain, in London, in Turkey… after 11 September security measures are very strict and very strong."

Iliris says the protests cannot be avoided because that is part of what a modern democracy is all about.

"We are living in democracy. People, they like something, people they dislike something," he said.

"Of course, there are some people who do not welcome him, but there are some people who welcome his visit. And, this is normal, especially in democracy," he added.

Pope Benedict will be spending four days in Turkey. He will visit Ankara, Ephesus and Istanbul.

On his arrival Tuesday, he will meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who originally had not planned to meet the pope, citing his travel to a NATO summit in Latvia.

In Istanbul, the pope will meet with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew the First, the leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

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