VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis welcomed Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Vatican on Monday for a meeting that took place amid boosted security and pro-Kurdish protests in Rome.
Erdogan arrived with his 16-strong entourage, which included his wife, Emine Erdogan, and attended a closed-door meeting with the head of the Catholic Church that lasted for 50 minutes, longer than the normal time period afforded to visiting world leaders.
Although the Vatican was yet to publish an outline of the pair’s discussion, the controversy over the status of Jerusalem, which United States President Donald Trump recently recognized as the capital of Israel, was set to be high on the agenda.
Erdogan has led the backlash against Trump’s decision, calling instead for the ancient holy city, the majority-Palestinian east of which is occupied by Israel since 1967, to be officially recognized as the capital of Palestine.
It was the first visit by a Turkish president to the Vatican in 59 years and one that was met with protests in the Italian capital city of Rome, as pro-Kurdish demonstrators vented their opposition to Erdogan’s military incursion against United States-backed Kurdish YPG militias in the Syrian enclave of Afrin.
Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist affiliate of its more habitual homegrown enemy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a low-level insurgency against the Turkish state for three decades.
As is custom, Francis and Erdogan swapped parting gifts. The Turkish president gave the Pope a panoramic picture of Istanbul and several books and in return received a medallion that Francis said represented the angel of peace and justice against the demon of war.