Pope wins praise in Turkey for gestures inside mosque

Pope Benedict XVI appeared to have won over Turks with his conciliatory gestures toward Islam, with major newspapers and commentators on Friday praising the pontiff for standing in prayer with an Islamic cleric inside Istanbul's Blue Mosque.

Most papers splashed pictures of the pontiff standing in prayer next to Mustafa Cagrici, the head cleric of Istanbul, inside the 17th Century mosque where Ottoman sultans performed their Friday prayers.

"The moment history was written," read the caption in the Islamic-oriented Yeni Safak newspaper.

"The congenial pope," the mass-circulation Hurriyet newspaper commented. "The pope who won sympathy with his words that amounted to an apology for Islam and his gestures toward Turkey, continued to surprise the world," the paper said.

"The pope avoided all kinds of gestures that could have led to misinterpretations. At (the Blue Mosque), he stood in prayer just like Muslims," it added.

Mehmet Nuri Yilmaz, the country's former head cleric and now a commentator for Hurriyet, recalled that Benedict had hurt Muslims with his remarks on Islam in September, reports AP.

The pope's gestures in Istanbul, however, indicated that the pope would work for dialogue between the faiths, Yilmaz said.

"His actions inside (the Blue Mosque) made us happy. His turning toward Mecca for prayer was a great gesture toward the Muslim world," Yilmaz said.

Still, with authorities clearing all traffic and blocking roads for the papal motorcade under massive security precautions in the already congested city, many in Istanbul were incensed.

"70 million people have to suffer because of just one man?" said Emin Genc who had to take a long detour by foot to get home. "This is unacceptable."

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