Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Pope Francis on Monday while police enforced a protest ban in central Rome as feelings run high over Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria.
During the 50-minute audience, Pope Francis gave Erdogan a medallion embossed with an angel strangling a “demon of war” — a symbol of peace and justice.
For the first visit by a Turkish leader for 59 years, the Italian authorities have imposed a 24-hour ban on demonstrations which covers Erdogan’s arrival from late Sunday to his departure on Monday evening.
Erdogan’s convoy arrived at a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, which was under heavy security as a total of 3,500 police have been deployed for the visit.
Nevertheless a small sit-in protest by some 30 people, organised by a Kurdish association in Italy, took place on Monday not far from the Vatican.
Turkey on January 20 launched its “Olive Branch” operation against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group and a threat to Turkish territory.
The Turkish army and allied Ankara-backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin but the operation has faced fierce resistance.
“In Afrin, a new crime against humanity is under way,” the Kurdish association said.