Pope Francis gave a symbol of peace as a gift to Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan on Monday, as Turkish forces continued their military offensive against Kurds in Syria.
The Pope and the Turkish leader had a 50-minute meeting behind closed doors, during which they discussed the situation in Syria as well as refugees in the Middle East and the Trump administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which they both oppose.
It was the first visit of a Turkish president to the Vatican in nearly 60 years.
After the meeting, the Pope gave Mr Erdogan a bronze medallion showing an angel embracing the world while battling a dragon.
"This is the angel of peace who strangles the demon of war," he told the president, whose forces have been accused of grave human rights abuses in the northern Afrin region of Syria.
Protesters scuffle with police in Rome Credit: REUTERS
"(It is) a symbol of a world based on peace and justice."
As the meeting took place, Kurdish protesters clashed with riot police about half a mile from the Vatican.
Two protesters were detained and one was left with blood streaming down his face after the scuffles with police near Castel Sant’ Angelo, a medieval fortress on the banks of the Tiber.
The protesters tried to break through police lines towards the Vatican but were pushed back by officers with shields and batons.
A protester against the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Vatican lies injured following scuffles with police in Rome. Credit: Reuters
Turkey began its military offensive in northern Syria, codenamed without apparent irony “Operation Olive Branch”, last month.
It is targeting Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara regards as a terrorist organisation and a threat to the integrity of Turkish territory.
There was tight security in central Rome for the visit, with around 3,500 police deployed to the streets.
Aside from the issue of Jerusalem, the Pope and the president diverge on several issues, including the Armenian genocide.
A woman holds a placard depicting a portrait of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, next to a Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) flag during a rally against the visit of the Turkish president in Rome, on February 5, 2018. Credit: AFP
In 2015, on the 100th anniversary of massacres and pogroms which led to the deaths of up to 1.5 million Armenians, Francis became the first Pope to use the word “genocide”.
Turkey was furious and withdrew its ambassador to the Holy See for nearly 10 months.