Benetton pulls pope-imam kiss ad after Vatican protests

Window of Benetton store in Paris, France, covered in poster showing Chinese President Hu Jintao kissing US President Hu Jintao - 16 November 2011 The ad campaign's manipulated images show world leaders locking lips

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Italian clothing company Benetton has pulled an ad showing Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam after the Vatican launched a strong protest.

The ad, with its doctored image, is part of a global advertising campaign.

It consists of photo montages of political and religious leaders kissing each other on the mouth.

Others featured are US President Barack Obama with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Shock ads

Vatican spokesman Federico Lomabardi called the Benetton ad an "absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends.

"This shows a grave lack of respect for the pope, an offence to the feelings of believers, a clear demonstration of how publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people by attracting attention with provocation," his statement said.

The Vatican was looking at what it could do "to guarantee a fair defence of respect for the image of the Holy Father," he added.

A large banner of the image showing showing Pope Benedict and Egypt's Ahmed el Tayyeb, imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, was displayed near the Vatican on Wednesday morning but later removed.

"We are sorry that the use of an image of the pontiff and the imam should have offended the sensibilities of the faithful in this way," Benetton said in a statement.

The purpose of the ad campaign, Benetton said, "was solely to battle the culture of hate in all its forms".

Benetton is no stranger to shock ad campaigns.

Previous controversial images it has used include death row inmates, a nun kissing a priest and a man dying of Aids.

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