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Pope urges dialogue in battling fanaticism.

Byline: Sebnem Arsu

ISTANBUL -- In his first visit as pope to a predominantly Muslim country, Pope Francis said in Turkey on Friday that interreligious dialogue, more than just military action, was required to combat the "fanaticism and fundamentalism'' that threaten Christians and other religious minorities along the country's southern border.

"Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears, which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers,'' the pope said in televised remarks at President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's palace in Ankara.

Francis called for the people and governments of the Middle East to "reverse the trend'' of violent conflict, and the 77-year-old pope said military action was not enough to suppress extremism.

"In Syria and Iraq, particularly, terrorist violence shows no signs of abating,'' the pope said, adding: "In reaffirming that it is licit, while always respecting the international law, to stop an unjust aggressor, I wish to reiterate, moreover, that the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response.''

A U.S.-led coalition is carrying out assaults against the militants of the Islamic State on Turkey's southern borders with Iraq and Syria.

Turkey has agreed to join the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, but has resisted a full-fledged commitment until safe areas and a no-fly zone could be established along its borders to help contain another possible influx of refugees. Turkey has taken in at least 1.6 million so far.

The pope praised the country's generosity in sheltering refugees, including Christians and Yazidis, and said it was the moral obligation of the international community to assist the government of Turkey in helping them. At a meeting later in the day with Mehmet Gormez, Turkey's top cleric, at the government's religious affairs directorate, the pope called on people of all faiths to protect the human rights of others.

"I wish to express my appreciation for everything that the Turkish people, Muslims and Christians alike, are doing to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing their countries due to conflicts,'' the pope said. "This is a clear example of how we can work together to serve others,'' he added.

At his presidential palace, Erdogan praised the pope and said his visit was an opportunity for Christians and Muslims to join forces against racism and Islamophobia.

"We sadly witness Muslims being associated with terror in the Western world, and in the Muslim world, we regret violent attitudes toward Christians,'' the president said.

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Author:Arsu, Sebnem
Publication:Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Date:Nov 29, 2014
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