Italian clothing firm Benetton caused an uproar with its "Unhate" campaign on Wednesday, featuring Photoshopped images of world leaders embraced in passionate kisses.
Among the advertisements are scenes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmous Abbas kissing, US President Barack Obama smooching with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and German Chancellor Angela Merkel locking lips with French President Nicholas Sarkozy. The campaign works with Benetton's newly created Unhate Foundation, which says its goal is to "combat the 'culture of hatred'" in the world.RELATED:Australian Muslim billboard campaign angers ChristiansBenetton withdrew an advertisement using an image of Pope Benedict kissing an imam on the mouth after the Vatican protested on Wednesday at the Italian clothing firm's latest shock campaign.Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called the unauthorized and "manipulative" use of the pope's picture in the photo montage totally unacceptable and suggested it might take legal action against the company."This is a grave lack of respect for the pope, an offense against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation," he said in a statement.A large banner with the image of the pope and the imam was hung from a bridge near the Vatican on Wednesday morning but later removed.Benetton said the purpose of its campaign was "exclusively to fight the culture of hate in every form" but said it had nonetheless decided to withdraw the image."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," it said in a statement.The Italian clothing company has run controversial advertising campaigns in the past, including one that showed grieving parents at the bedside of a man dying of AIDS.