Already facing a potential storm of protests when he visits Turkey later this month, Pope Benedict will not be recieved by the Turkish prime minister in what the Italian press were calling a major snub to the pontiff.
The pope's lecture in Regensburg caused fury throughout the Islamic world
The Italian press on Thursday saw a snub in the fact that Pope Benedict XVI will not meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during his November 28-30 visit to Turkey.
Erdogan will instead attend the November 28-29 summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Riga, Latvia.
"The Islamic premier will go abroad so as not to receive the visiting Benedict XVI," said a headline in the daily La Repubblica. "Erdogan avoids meeting with the pope," said a Corriere della Sera headline.
"Elections are approaching, and maybe... the prime minister thought that not meeting the pope would mean one problem less in the electoral campaign," Ruggero Franchescini, the archbishop of Izmir, Turkey, and president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops there, told Corriere.
Turkey is set to hold presidential elections in the first half of 2007, followed by general elections late in the year.
Benedict will be making the trip, his first to a Muslim country since his election as pope in April 2005, under a cloud because of remarks he made in September linking Islam to violence.
Vatican attempts to diffuse possible conflict
Erdogan will be elsewhere when the pope comes calling to Turkey
The Vatican played down the importance of the apparent snub by the Turkish prime minister, a practicing Muslim with roots in Turkey's Islamist movement. Erdogan would have been the first Turkish prime minister to ever meet with the head of the Catholic church.
"Benedict XVI will meet other authorities representative of the country," the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, was quoted as saying Wednesday by the ANSA news agency.
He said: "The detailed program was not yet furnished... and so we never said whom the pope would meet in Turkey. It was never said that the pontiff would meet all the authorities."
The pope provoked an outcry with a theological lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany, in which he referred to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor and implicitly denounced connections between Islam and violence, particularly with regard to jihad, or "holy war."
Shots fired during pope protest
Mulsim anger over the pope's speech is still apparent
Meanwhile, a Turkish man fired shots into the air outside the Italian consulate in Istanbul Thursday in an apparent protest against the pope's planned visit to Turkey. As police moved in to arrested the man, he shouted "How happy I am to be a Muslim."
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told broadcaster Sky Italia the incident would not lead to any change in the pope's visit. "The protests in Istanbul are marginal. The trip will go ahead as planned."