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Posters backing Ghana's Cardinal Turkson for pope appear in Rome

Ned Fridrich / NBC News

As cardinals prepare to choose who will be the next pope, posters seen on the streets of Rome appear to implore them to choose Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson.

As Roman Catholic cardinals prepare to choose the next pope, political-style campaigning for the position is forbidden. So there were a few raised eyebrows in Rome on Friday, when mysterious posters appeared around the city, apparently in support of Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.

"Vote Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson” was written on the posters alongside an image of the cardinal, who some say could succeed Pope Benedict XVI, whose papacy formally ended on Thursday night.

If chosen, Turkson would be the first non-European to lead the Catholic Church in more than 1,000 years.

Even informal campaigning to become pope is considered bad form, and openly putting one's name forward is enough to end any cardinal’s chances.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the posters, or even if they are part of a spoof campaign. Insiders say they are unlikely to have been produced with the cardinal’s knowledge.

“You can be absolutely sure that poor Cardinal Turkson, a true innocent, had nothing to do with this,” said NBC Vatican expert George Weigel.

Even though Italians have just been through a month-long political campaign, locals say these new election-style posters are a surprise.

Ned Fridrich / NBC News

As cardinals prepare to choose who will be the next pope, posters seen on the streets of Rome appear to implore them to choose Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson.

Next week, cardinals will hold informal discussions of church issues, known as "general congregations." At the top of their agenda will be the announcement of a date for the 115 eligible cardinals to enter the conclave – a closed, secret voting session held inside the Sistine Chapel that continues until they agree on a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Cardinal Turkson, the head of the Vatican’s justice and peace department, has been tipped in some quarters as Africa’s frontrunner for pope.

Irish bookmakers, Paddy Power, said Turkson had received the highest number of bets of any cardinal, including one wager of $7,600.

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