EU justice chief condemns threats made against pope

The European Union's justice chief Franco Frattini on Thursday condemned threats made against Pope Benedict XVI and called on European governments to rally around the pontiff's message.

"Europe should stand united in defending the message of tolerance of Pope Ratzinger," Frattini said at EU justice and interior ministers talks. He said the EU was taking threats made against the Vatican "very seriously."

Frattini did not specify what threats had been made against Benedict, but said angry comments against him were "a threat against humanity, not only Christianity."

"The pope symbolizes not only the religion, but also the message of tolerance, the message of mutual respect," Frattini said.

He said he could not accept the intentional misinterpretation of Benedict's speech through violent attacks against churches around the world. Frattini called for renewed dialogue between religions to ease tensions.

Many Muslims around the world reacted angrily to comments made by the pope during his trip to Germany last week. On Wednesday, the pope said he did not mean to malign Islam when he quoted a text by a medieval emperor that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," but the pope did not issue the direct apology demanded by some Muslim leaders.

Italian police forces which help provide security for the Vatican have increased their presence out of concern that Muslim anger could lead to Roman Catholic sites becoming terrorist targets.

Rome city officials said Wednesday, however, that no specific threats had been found against the Vatican.

Italy's Vice Premier Francesco Rutelli told parliament that police throughout Italy had been directed to intensify their monitoring of Muslim businesses, mosques and other known gathering points.