Turkish man shoots at Italian consulate to protest Papal visit

.- A young man was arrested yesterday after firing three shots into the air in front of the Italian consulate in Istanbul in protest of Pope Benedict's scheduled visit to Turkey later this month. Ibrahim Ak, 26, was immediately arrested.

"I did what every Muslim has to do. God willing, the Pope will not come to Turkey, but if he does he will see what will happen to him," Ak was quoted as saying by the DHA news agency, while he was sitting in a police car after his detainment.

Turkish police sources told Italian news organization ANSA that the gunman said during his interrogation: "I would kill the Pope with my own hands if I could. I hope that after what I did today, others will protest as well.”

The man reportedly told police that he acted alone and that he was not a member of a fundamentalist group.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told Reuters that this “isolated incident” has not affected preparations for the Pope’s trip, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.

The main purpose of the Pope’s trip is to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the world's Orthodox Christians. However, the visit has stirred controversy and some Muslims in the country, angered by the Pope’s September lecture in which he cited a 14th-century emperor who was critical of Islam, have said the Pope should not visit Turkey.

In what some Vatican observers are considering a diplomatic snub, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced this week he would not meet with the Pope, choosing instead to attend a NATO meeting in Estonia, which is being held at that time.  The Vatican, however, is downplaying the prime minister’s decision, saying they knew a meeting might not be possible from the start.

Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 and is currently serving a jail sentence in Istanbul for murder and robbery, offered warnings through his lawyer that the Pope should not visit the Muslim country, in September.

Violence against Roman Catholic clergy in Turkey had risen in the past year, even prior to the Pope’s remarks. In the most serious incident, a youth shot dead an Italian priest while he prayed in his church in the Black Sea port of Trabzon.  A French priest survived a knife attack in Samsun, also on the Black Sea, and a Slovenian Franciscan friar received death threats.

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