Pope sorry for offending Muslims (BBC)

Pope Benedict XVI has apologised in person for causing offence to Muslims in a speech in Bavaria last week.

He said the medieval text which he quoted did not express in any way his personal opinion, adding the speech was an invitation to respectful dialogue.

The Pope has been under intense scrutiny amid angry reactions from throughout the Muslim world.

The 14th Century Christian emperor's quote said the Prophet Muhammad brought the world only evil and inhuman things.

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome says many critics will say Sunday's comments should have been attached to his speech in Regensburg, which may well have avoided the controversy that followed.

The Pope appeared on the balcony at his residence at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome for the Angelus blessing on Sunday.

"...I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he told pilgrims.

"These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.

"I hope this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with mutual respect."

Police had promised meticulous security checks in an extended area around the residence but said they would be discreet so as not to disturb the prayers.

Marksmen kept watch on the square from a city hall while officers dressed like tourists, filmed the crowd with video cameras.

Police confiscated umbrellas and bottles of liquid.

Last Tuesday's incident led Morocco to withdraw its ambassador to the Vatican, calling the comments "offensive".

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood had called on the pontiff to say sorry in person.

A statement on a web site purportedly issued by the Iraqi insurgent group, the Mujahideen Army, threatened an attack on the Vatican. The statement could not be independently authenticated.


Our correspondent says the crisis could not have come at a worse time for the Pope.

Not only is he due to visit Muslim Turkey in November but he has also recently appointed two new men to the jobs of secretary of state and head of diplomacy at the Vatican.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the comments had been "ugly and unfortunate" and when asked if the Pope's trip would go ahead, he said: "I wouldn't know."

In his speech at Regensburg University on Tuesday, the German-born Pope quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted the emperor saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

He also said that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

Reactions to the speech have come from such leaders as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who said efforts to link Islam and terrorism should be clearly opposed.

Street protests have been held in Pakistan, India, Turkey and Gaza.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, two churches were firebombed on Saturday in attacks claimed by a group which said it was protesting against the Pope's remarks.

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