Thousands of police officers were deployed in Rome Monday to secure Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Erdogan traveled to Vatican City Monday to meet with the pontiff. In anticipation of the trip, Italian officials mobilized 3,500 police and barred protests during the visit.
After an official welcoming ceremony, Erdogan met with Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a closed-door session. He is the first Turkish leader in 59 years to visit the Vatican.
Before his departure from Turkey, Erdogan said he and Vatican leaders would discuss Palestine, Jerusalem, Syria, Iraq, counterterrorism, refugee issues and humanitarian aid.
The Turkish leader added that he and the pope agree the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December was a mistake. The pope was a prominent critic of President Donald Trump’s decision.
“We especially welcomed [the pope’s] stance on the Jerusalem issue. We spoke several times over the phone during this period. His positive stance really mattered to show us what we can jointly do together with him as the Christian world’s leader,” Erdogan said.
Pro-Kurdish groups threatened massive demonstrations against Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish forces in Syria, but Rome responded with a 24-hour ban.
The right-wing Brothers of Italy party was also critical of Erdogan’s visit, warning against immigration that it said would lead to the “Islamization of Europe.” Party President Giorgia Meloni said the Italian people sought to send a message to Turkey by rejecting Turkey’s interest in joining the European Union.
On Saturday, Erdogan criticized European leaders for blocking the attempt to join the EU.
During the visit to Rome, Erdogan also planned to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.