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Pope, in Turkey, Appeals for Religious Tolerance

Pope Benedict XVI ended the first day of his visit to Turkey urging all religious leaders to "utterly refuse" to support any form of violence in the name of faith. He also spoke of his concern for increasing conflict and acts of terrorism in the Middle East. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Istanbul.

Pope Benedict's last public meeting on his first day in Turkey was an address to diplomats at the apostolic mission in Ankara.

The pope expressed concern that conflict and acts of terrorism are growing in the Middle East.

"I am particularly thinking of the conflict in the Middle East," the pope said, "which continues in a disturbing way to weigh heavily on the whole of international life."

The pope spoke of his concern about the risk of peripheral conflicts multiplying and terrorist actions spreading.

Benedict said recent developments in terrorism and in "certain regional conflicts" highlight the need for strong and effective international efforts, including peacekeeping forces in violence-wracked places, such as Lebanon.

The pope, who is making his first papal trip to a predominantly Moslem nation also urged religious leaders from all faiths to reject attempts to wield political power.

He called on them to, in his words, "utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of religion."

The pope said Turkey has always served as a bridge between East and West, between Asia and Europe, and as a crossroads of cultures and religions.

He said dialogue is needed so that different religions come to know each other better and respect one another.

"We are in great need of authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful cooperation, to overcome all the tensions together."

Speaking in a country that has a tiny Christian minority, Pope Benedict also stressed the need for all citizens to be guaranteed the right to freedom of worship and freedom of conscience.