Enemies: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea, are unlikely to be keen on this picture

Benetton was forced to pull into a humiliating climbdown today as the clothing company was forced to pull one of its images from its new 'Unhate' campaign. The Italian firm withdrew the photograph featuring Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam on the lips after the Vatican denounced it as an unacceptable provocation. Benetton had claimed its 'Unhate' campaign, which was launched today, was aimed at fostering tolerance and 'global love' but would have known how much trouble they were likely to stir up.

The campaign's adverts include digitally altered pictures half a dozen world leaders to show them kissing.

Combating hatred: Benetton hope the controversial images will help create tolerance around the world. This picture shows China's leader Hu Jintao and Barack Obama

The windows of the Benetton Store in Paris

Benetton said the photographs of political and religious leaders kissing were 'symbolic images of reconciliation - with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation - to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.'

In a statement, the Treviso-based manufacturer said: '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. We have decided with immediate effect to withdraw this image from every publication.'

Unhate Foundation

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