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Pope Benedict Arrives In Turkey

Pope Benedict (left) with Prime Minister Erdogan in Ankara today (epa) November 28, 2006 -- Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Ankara today for his first visit to a Muslim-majority country since becoming pontiff in April 2005.

Upon arrival, the pope said Turkey is a "bridge" between religions and he appealed for solidarity between cultures.

Benedict told Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who greeted him at Ankara airport, that Turkey is a democratic, Islamic country and a bridge.

The pope said he had wanted to visit Turkey since becoming pope.

Erdogan, who originally had not planned to meet with the pope during this visit, agreed to greet Benedict at the airport after coming under pressure from intellectuals and the media.

"First of all, I would like to state my pleasure at seeing you and your delegation in our country," Erdogan said. "Your visit is taking place at a very special time. Therefore, I find it quite meaningful."

After the meeting, Erdogan said the pope had told him that he supports Turkey's bid to join the EU. Before becoming pope last year, Benedict had said Turkey's Muslim religion meant it did not belong in the EU.

During his four-day visit, Benedict is also expected to seek to ease anger over his perceived criticism of Islam and mend a split with the world's Orthodox Christians.

Turkey deployed unprecedented security measures for the visit, even surpassing the arrangements made for U.S. President George W. Bush's 2004 visit for a NATO summit.

(compiled from agency reports)

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