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Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 17:18 UK

Milan mosque 'to be closed down'

Roberto Maroni (file image)
Italy's interior minister has rejected accusations of behaving like a fascist

A controversial mosque in the Italian city of Milan is to be shut down, the country's right-wing government says.

The Jenner mosque attracts about 4,000 Muslims each week, with Friday prayers often spilling out on to the street.

Now, after years of complaints from local residents, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni has said he will close the mosque by August.

A leading Roman Catholic has accused Mr Maroni of behaving like a fascist. He has rejected that charge.

Rendition

The Jenner mosque is based in a converted garage.

Since it opened as an Islamic cultural centre in 1988, it has outgrown its cramped surroundings - much to the alarm of people living in the neighbourhood, says the BBC's Christian Fraser in Rome.

It has come under the spotlight several times for alleged links to extremism.

The Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, who was known for his fiery preaching, says he was kidnapped on his way to the mosque in 2003.

He claims he was then transferred to Egypt, where he was tortured.

Twenty-six suspected CIA agents and several Italian intelligence officials are currently on trial in Milan over his alleged rendition.

Most of them are being tried in absentia.

'Nomads'

Mr Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigrant Northern League, has said he will press ahead with plans to close the mosque, and that anybody found praying in the street will be issued with a ticket.

The local Muslim community is being offered the use of a nearby stadium, in which the Beatles once played.

However, the council has said it can only be used four times each week and that each person will be charged on entry.

The president of the mosque, Abdel Hamid Shaari, has said he is happy to pay rent but that its members "won't be treated like nomads".

"We are Milanese and we are not going to accept the solution that's being offered," he said.

Catholic support

The Catholic church has come out in support of the Muslim community.

The Roman Catholic priest in charge of inter-faith relations in Milan, Monsignor Gianfranco Bottoni, said that only a fascist or populist government would resort to such dictatorial methods as closing a mosque.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Mr Maroni said he was addressing residents' complaints that worship regularly spilled out on to the street.

He said he had faced similar criticism from the UN children's fund (Unicef), when the Italian government announced that it was fingerprinting all Roma people of gypsies.

However, he had convinced Unicef that the move would help get Roma children into mainstream schools, he said.


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