VATICAN CITY — Paying the first Vatican visit by a Turkish head of state in 59 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Monday with Pope Francis to discuss the status of Jerusalem, human rights and refugees while Kurdish and Italian protesters clashed with police a short distance from Vatican City.

Police in riot gear blocked the protesters, estimated by officers to number about 150, near Rome’s Tiber River as they tried to get closer to the Vatican. One protester suffered a bloody gash on his head in the scuffle. Police said another was detained.

“I am surprised the pope is willing to meet with a person like that, a dictator, an assassin, with blood on his hands,” said Said Durson, who was among the demonstrators.

Turkey last month launched a military offensive in a Kurdish-held enclave in Syria. The Turkish government says the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia there is a terrorist organization and an extension of Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey.

Both the Turkish and Vatican sides described the private talks as cordial. Francis and Erdogan have made plain their concern over the Trump administration’s decision two months ago to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Erdogan, in an interview with the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa on Sunday, said he and the pope already had talked by telephone about the Jerusalem issue and said both of them favored working to maintain the status quo for the city considered holy by three religions.

Referring to Jerusalem in December, Francis emphasized that the city is sacred to followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and prayed that no “new elements of tension” would be added to a world already suffering many conflicts.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.