Pope and Saudi king to hold landmark meeting

Roman Catholic head Pope Benedict will meet Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah next week for talks expected to centre on Christian-Islam relations, the Vatican said on Wednesday.

The first talks between a Saudi monarch and a pope will take place on Tuesday. The king, currently in Britain, will be in Italy to meet government officials.

The Vatican does not have formal diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and relations have been strained. The Vatican has often called for greater rights for the small Christian minority there.

The Christians, mostly guest workers, are not allowed to practice their faith in public, the Vatican says.

Abdullah is custodian of the mosques in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, sites of pilgrimages by millions of Muslims every year.

Muslims around the world protested last year after Benedict, speaking at a university in his native Germany, used a quote that associated Islam with violence. He said he was misunderstood and later expressed his esteem for Muslims.

King Abdullah is currently on a state visit to Britain, and met Queen Elizabeth on Wednesday.

However, the King's visit also sparked protests from activists against Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

The Saudi leader has already sparked a degree of controversy earlier this week when, in an interview to BBC, he said Saudi Arabia passed on to Britain information that might have helped avert the July 2005 bombings that killed 52 people.

He accused London of failing to do enough to combat terrorism, saying: "We have sent information to Great Britain before the terrorist attacks in Britain, but unfortunately no action was taken and it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy."

However, reports also quoted a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown as saying that no warnings were received before the July 7 attacks: "We made it very clear at the time that no specific warnings were received from any source."