German Chancellor Defends Pope against Muslim Anger

As Muslims continue to voice angry protest, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come out to defend the Pope after allegations he attacked Islam in a speech earlier this week

Pope Benedict XVI sparked fury among Muslim communities the world over after a speech on Tuesday in which he repeated criticism of the Prophet Mohammad by the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

|PIC1|The Pope, who used the terms "jihad" and "holy war" in his lecture, added "violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

Now Muslim leaders and clergy, as well as non-Muslim observers, continue to assail the Pope as they call for an apology in person.

"He should apologise to Muslims," the president of the German Council of Muslims, Ayyub Axel Koehler, told the German Neue Presse newspaper on Saturday. "That would be a contribution towards unwinding the tension and creating clarity."

Officials at the Vatican defended the Pope's comments, saying that he was attempting to demonstrate in his speech that there could never be any religious justification for violence.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Merkel reflected this view in her defence of the German-born Pontiff's comments.

The German chancellor said that Pope Benedict's comments had been misinterpreted, insisting that he had been calling for dialogue with other religions.

"Whoever criticises the Pope misunderstood the aim of his speech," Merkel was quoted as saying.

"It was an invitation to dialogue between religions and the Pope expressedly spoke in favour of this dialogue ... What Benedict XVI emphasised was a decisive and uncompromising renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of religion."

Koehler warned that the violent protests that broke out over the Mohammad cartoons could break out again following the Pope's comments.

"The indignation should not be allowed to escalate any further," he said, adding that violence will not be tolerated.