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Pope Offers To Meet Muslim Envoys

Pope Benedict XVI, who has been seeking to defuse Muslim anger over his recent remarks about Islam, has invited representatives of Muslim countries to meet with him next week, the Vatican said Friday.

The pope asked ambassadors to the Holy See from predominantly Muslim countries to meet him at his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, on Monday, the Vatican said.

Representatives of Italy's Muslim community who have advised the Italian government on integration issues also have been invited, the Vatican said.

CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports initial word from Rome is that reaction seems to be positive, with ambassadors saying they will attend and some hoping relations between the Vatican and the Islamic world will improve.

The controversy stems from a Sept. 12 address in Germany, where Benedict cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith."

Three times in the past week Benedict expressed regret for the speech, MacVicar reports, but he has stopped short of a full apology.

The pope said Sunday that he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions.

At his weekly audience in St Peters Square on Wednesday, the pope continued to insist he had been misunderstood and called for dialogue.

"I wished to explain that not religion and violence but religion and reason go together," he said.

Amid fury in the Muslim world, the Vatican also ordered papal representatives around the world to meet with leaders of Muslim countries to explain the pope's point of view and the full context of his speech.

Meanwhile, Muslims around the world continued to express outrage over the pope's remarks.

Hundreds of radical Islamists chanting "Down with the pope" rallied in several Pakistani cities on Friday.

"If I get hold of the pope, I will hang him," Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a senior leader of a coalition of six Islamic parties, told protesters in Islamabad, who carried placards reading "Terrorist, extremist Pope be hanged!" and "Down with Muslims' enemies!"

The protests came a day after 1,000 clerics and religious leaders met in Lahore and called for the pope's removal and warned the West of consequences if it didn't change its stance regarding Islam.

Thousands of Muslims also staged anti-pope marches in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on Friday, waving green Hamas banners and denouncing the pontiff as a coward.

In Malaysia, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad urged the Vatican to do more to repair relations with Muslims, while the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party staged demonstrations outside mosques nationwide, calling for the pope to fully retract his remarks.

On Thursday, a U.N. investigator on acts of xenophobia and racism on called Benedict's remarks on Islam "profoundly troubling."

In a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Senegalese rights expert Doudou Diene said he did not consider Benedict's remarks in Germany last week to be an attempt to legitimize Islamophobia.

However, considering the current trend to associate Islam and terrorism the pope's lecture was "bound to nourish and give legitimacy" to the hatred of Islam, he said, recalling the violent protests throughout the Muslim world sparked by the newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

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