LAHORE, Pakistan – About 1,000 Muslim clerics and religious scholars meeting Thursday in eastern Pakistan demanded the removal of Pope Benedict XVI for making what they called "insulting remarks" against Islam.
Benedict "should be removed from his position immediately for encouraging war and fanning hostility between various faiths" and "making insulting remarks" against Islam, said a joint statement issued by the clerics and scholars at the end of their one-day convention.
The "pope, and all infidels, should know that no Muslim, under any circumstances, can tolerate an insult to the Prophet (Muhammad). ... If the West does not change its stance regarding Islam, it will face severe consequences," it said.
The meeting was organized by the radical Islamic group Jamaat al-Dawat, which runs schools, colleges and medical clinics. In April, Washington put the group on a list of terrorist organizations for its alleged links with militants fighting in the Indian part of Kashmir.
The meeting came after the pope said Sunday he was "deeply sorry" about the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions.
He said Wednesday that he has "deep respect" for Islam, but he did not offer an apology that was demanded by some Muslim leaders offended by his remarks in Germany last week.
Meanwhile, 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.
The pope earlier acknowledged that his remarks were open to misinterpretation, but insisted he had not intended to endorse a negative view of Islam.
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 pontiff said Wednesday. "In no way did I wish to make my own the words of the medieval emperor. I wished to explain that not religion and violence, but religion and reason go together."
But the clerics and religious scholars in Pakistan said they did not regard Benedict's latest comments as an apology.
"The pope has neither accepted his mistake, nor apologized for his words," it said.
The statement also said jihad was not terrorism and that "Islam was not propagated with the sword, but it became popular and was accepted by the oppressed peoples of the world because of its universal values and teachings."
"Jihad is waged to rid an area, state, or the world of oppression, violence, cruelty, and terrorism, and bring peace and relief to the people. History is full of incidents where Muslims waged jihad to provide relief to people of many faiths, especially Jews and Christians," it said.
Pakistan is the world's second most populous country, and its people have held small, peaceful rallies since the publication of pope's remarks about Islam.