Islamic states hope for better ties with new pope: OIC

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The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 countries, expressed hope on Thursday for better relations between Muslim states and the Vatican under newly elected Pope Francis.

OIC secretary general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, in a letter of congratulations to the pope, said he hoped "the relationship between Islam and Christianity will regain its cordiality and sincere friendship" under the new head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis, an Argentine who was elected on Wednesday, replaces Benedict XVI, whose papacy was plagued by a series of public relations blunders at the start of his reign that offended many.

Benedict angered the Muslim world with a speech in 2006 in which he appeared to endorse the view that Islam is inherently violent, sparking deadly protests in several countries as well as attacks on Christians.

In his letter, Ihsanoglu said that "over the last eight years, the OIC has called for and worked hard to propagate the idea of 'historic reconciliation between Islam and Christianity'."

"I would like at this historic moment to reiterate this call," he wrote, adding that he was "praying for success in your holiness's lofty and noble mission."

Sunni Islam's highest seat of learning, al-Azhar, had also called for "better relations" with the Vatican under the new pope following the suspension of inter-faith dialogue after statements from Benedict sparked Muslim anger.

"As soon as a new policy emerges, we will resume the dialogue with the Vatican which was suspended in early 2011," Mahmud Azab, adviser for inter-faith affairs to al-Azhar imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, told AFP.