Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 16:38 UK

Vast new mosque opens in Chechnya

The Heart of Chechnya mosque
The mosque is the centrepiece of the project to rebuild Grozny

A new mosque in the Russian region of Chechnya - described by the authorities as the biggest in Europe - has opened.

The Heart of Chechnya mosque has been built in the centre of the capital, Grozny - on a spot where civil war raged only a few years ago.

Hundreds of local people attended the opening of the mosque, which was built in memory of Chechnya's assassinated pro-Kremlin leader Akhmad Kadyrov.

His son Ramzan - the present ruler - led the inauguration ceremony.

Muslims played traditional instruments outside the mosque, built in the classical Ottoman style, and reminiscent of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul.

Loyalty to Moscow

The Turkish-built structure, which can hold 10,000 worshippers, has risen where there was only rubble, says BBC correspondent James Rodgers.

Its minarets tower over the centre of Grozny, where many of the streets are still being rebuilt.

Local Muslims play national instruments outside the Heart of Chechnya mosque
The mosque will be able to accommodate 10,000 people

It is only a few years since the site of the mosque and the entire surrounding area were nothing more than a layer of fractured masonry.

Ramzan Kadyrov has presided over a massive, Moscow-funded reconstruction programme, of which the mosque is the centrepiece.

Like his father, Mr Kadyrov once took up arms against Moscow's rule, but later switched sides.

At the opening ceremony he stressed his loyalty to the Kremlin - saying that with the help of the federal authorities, the Chechen people had thwarted plans to bring about Russia's collapse.

"The Chechens... have defended the integrity of Russia and the purity of Islam," he said.

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