- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ANKARA, Turkey — Muslims in Turkey, Iraq and the Palestinian territories demanded yesterday that Pope Benedict XVI make a clear apology for his remarks on Islam, but the Malaysian prime minister said he accepted the pontiff’s statement of regret.

In the Vatican, the pope appealed for mutual respect for religious beliefs as he mourned an Italian nun slain in Somalia in an attack thought to have been linked to the uproar over his recent remarks.

While denouncing violence, the pope said he hopes the killing “becomes the seed of hope to construct authentic brotherhood among peoples in the mutual respect for the religious convictions of each other,” according to a condolence telegram released by the Vatican.

Sister Leonella, 65, who taught and worked at a pediatrics hospital in Mogadishu, was fatally shot as she left the Austrian-run SOS hospital Sunday. There was no assertion of responsibility, but many speculated that the shooting was linked to Muslim anger toward Benedict.

In a speech last week, the pontiff cited a medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”

Benedict said Sunday that he was “deeply sorry” that Muslims took offense and stressed that the words he had quoted did not reflect his own opinion.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Benedict’s expression of regret was acceptable. Malaysia — which chairs the world’s largest Muslim bloc, the Organization of the Islamic Conference — had demanded the pope offer a full apology and retract what he said.

“I think we can accept it, and we hope there are no more statements that can anger the Muslims,” Mr. Abdullah told Malaysian journalists late Monday in New York, where he is attending the U.N. General Assembly.

His comments came after he met with President Bush, who told the Malaysian leader that he thought that Benedict was sincere in apologizing.

Iraq’s parliament rejected Benedict’s explanation of his remarks, saying it was insufficiently clear. The parliament “demands the pope take practical steps to restore respect to the Islamic world and its religion, and a clear-cut apology for what he said,” lawmakers said at a press conference.

The top Muslim cleric in the Palestinian territories similarly demanded that Benedict offer a “clear apology.”

In Turkey, the pope’s remarks strengthened the widespread view that he is hostile to the country’s campaign for membership in the European Union. Before becoming pope, he questioned whether the European Union should open its doors to Turkey, saying it might be incompatible with European culture.

Catholic bishops meeting in Istanbul Monday decided the pope’s visit to Turkey in November should go ahead, said Monsignor Georges Marovitch, the Vatican Embassy spokesman in Turkey. The pope was invited by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a staunchly secular leader.

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