VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Spain asked the Vatican on Friday to back an initiative promoting Western-Arab understanding, in a bid to give fresh impetus to the plan after Muslim protests against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos made the request for support of the “Alliance of Civilisations” during talks with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Foreign Minister Giovanni Lajolo, a Vatican statement said. Spain and Turkey launched the initiative last year and this month called for calm and respect after violent demonstrations by Muslims against the cartoons. Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous. Pope Benedict has condemned the cartoons, which were first published in Denmark and reprinted in Europe and the Middle East, saying freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person’s religion. Spain and the Vatican have had strained relations since the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero legalised homosexual marriages last year despite strong opposition from the country’s powerful Catholic Church. Moratinos’ visit to the Vatican appeared to be an attempt by Madrid to mend ties ahead of a visit by the pope to Valencia in July to attend a rally of Catholic families.

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