Italian clothing brand Benetton has given in to pressure and pulled a controversial advert that depicts Pope Benedict XVI and Egyptian Imam Ahmed Mohamed kissing.

The ad is part of the label’s new worldwide UNHATE campaign, which also features images of other world leaders kissing.

These include President Barack Obama kissing China’s leader Hu Jintao and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smooching.

The Vatican slammed the ad featuring the Pope, expressing its “firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends”.

In response to outrage from the Vatican and Catholic groups, Benetton – long-known for its provocative advertising – agreed to withdraw the ad.

The company also apologised, saying that it was “sorry that the use of the image had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful”.

On its website, Benetton explains that “Unhate is a message that invites us to consider that hate and love are not as far away from each other as we think. Actually, the two opposing sentiments are often in a delicate and unstable balance. Our campaign promotes a shift in the balance: don’t hate, Unhate”.

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