VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI said Wednesday he did not mean to malign Islam when he quoted a medieval emperor, but did not issue the direct apology still demanded by some Muslim leaders who were offended by his remarks.

During an audience in a tightly guarded St. Peter’s Square, Benedict acknowledged that his comments – which sparked fury across the Muslim world – were open to misinterpretation.

In a Sept. 12 address at the University of Regensburg in Germany, 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.”

“This quote unfortunately lent itself to be misunderstood,” the pope said Wednesday. “For the careful reader of my text, however, it is clear that in no way did I wish to make my own the negative words of the medieval emperor.

“I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason go together,” he added, drawing applause from the crowd of some 20,000 faithful.

Benedict repeated Wednesday’s comments – originally made in Italian – in English, French, Spanish and German, but not in Arabic.

He expressed “deep respect” for Islam and called for a dialogue among religions.

“I trust that after the initial reaction, my words at the University of Regensburg can constitute an impulse and encouragement toward positive, even self-critical dialogue both among religions and between modern reason and Christian faith,” Benedict said.

Reaction was angry across the Muslim world. Protests took place in Indonesia, Turkey and Syria; churches were attacked in the West Bank; an effigy of the pope was burned in Iraq; and a nun was shot dead in Somalia in an attack believed to be linked to the pope’s address in Germany.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – an Islamic hard-liner – said during a trip to Venezuela on Monday that he respects the pope, apparently playing down the controversy. “Regarding the issue of the pope’s comments, we respect the pope and all of those who are interested in peace and justice,” Ahmadinejad told reporters.

And Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Tuesday that Benedict’s expression of regret was acceptable. Malaysia – which chairs the world’s largest Muslim bloc, the Organization of the Islamic Conference – earlier had demanded the pope offer a full apology and retraction.

The pope’s address Wednesday was the second time in four days that he has sought to clarify his intentions and defuse the anger that followed his speech.

On Sunday, Benedict said that he was “deeply sorry” about the reaction to his remarks, stressing that they did not reflect his own opinions.

While some accepted his regrets, others said the statement did not go far enough and demanded an unequivocal apology.

“The pope has to apologize frankly and justify what he said,” Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, grand sheik of Al-Azhar Mosque, the Sunni Arab world’s most powerful institution, told papal and Egyptian Catholic representatives in Cairo on Tuesday.

The Vatican also ordered papal representatives around the world to meet with leaders of Muslim countries to explain the pope’s views and the full context of his speech.

Benedict kept up his routine during Wednesday’s audience. He arrived in an open jeep, waving and blessing the crowd, and at the end he remained in the piazza to greet some of the faithful.

Italian police forces – which help provide security for the Vatican – have been beefed up out of concern that the Muslim anger could cause Roman Catholic sites to become terrorist targets.

Rome Prefect Achille Serra said Wednesday, however, that “there is no specific threat.”

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.

AP-ES-09-20-06 1637EDT

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