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2006-09-25,2:36 PM

Pope to meet Muslim diplomats

Pope Benedict XVI is due to meet Muslim diplomats in Rome as part of the Catholic church's latest effort to mend relations with the Islamic world.

Federico Lombardi, Benedict's spokesman, said the meeting on Monday, at the Vatican's summer residence, was "certainly a sign that dialogue is returning to normal after moments of ... misunderstanding."

The meeting aims to address widespread Muslim anger at a speech the pope made on September 12, when he quoted the words of a Byzantine emperor who said some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

Benedict has said that his remarks were taken out of context that he regretted that Muslims were offended.

Since the speech, many Muslim nations and religious figures have called on the pope to apologise for linking Islam and violence.

In Palestine, Muslim demonstrators burnt several churches in protest.

In Somalia a Muslim gunmen shot dead a Catholic nun in an attack that has been linked to the pope's speech.

Diplomats invited

Among the countries expected to send representatives were Iran, Iraq and Egypt.

Also expected were diplomats from Indonesia, where Christian-Muslim tensions were further heightened last week by the execution of three Catholics for their roles in anti-Muslim rioting.

Benedict last month had appealed for the men's lives to be spared.

Turkey also accepted the invitation. Benedict has said he hopes to go in November to the predominantly Muslim but officially secular country, whose officials were among the first to vigorously protest the Regensburg remarks.

The medieval Byzantine empire was based in the Mediterranean. It's capital was Constantinople, present day Istanbul, until the city was conquered by Muslim armies in 1453. To this day, Istanbul remains the home of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople [the worldwide headquarters of the Greek Orthodox church].

Vatican Radio said that it would cover the meeting live, and the speeches were scheduled to be shown to journalists on closed-circuit Vatican TV.

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