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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 22:40 GMT
Unionists outrage local Muslims
The gift was presented by local Muslims
The gift was presented by local Muslims
Unionist councillors in County Antrim have outraged local Muslims by refusing to accept an Islamic gift which had been presented to an SDLP member.

One Democratic Unionist Party member of Ballymena council said he was suspicious of Muslims because of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States.

The gift at the centre of the row is a brass plate, decorated with Islamic designs intended to express friendship with the people of the town.

It was presented to SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan at an exhibition in the town's museum.
James Alexander
James Alexander: "I do not believe in the Islamic faith"

He wanted to pass it to to council at the next committee meeting.

But three DUP councillors made clear their opposition.

One of them, James Alexander, said: "I do not believe in the Islamic faith or their traditions and I am suspicious because of the attacks on New York and Washington over six months ago.

"A lot of people in the United States and elsewhere have been slaughtered by them."

Members of the Northern Ireland Muslim community are outraged by the remarks.

The president of the Islamic Centre, Jamal Jweida, said: "This is really shocking to us. It is the first time we have heard something like that from a politician or a public figure.
Jamal Jweida
Jamal Jweida, said: "This is really shocking to us"

"I think the DUP as a party should review this matter and take action over what was said."

Declan O'Loan said it was the perfect opportunity for the council to recognise that there was a small Islamic community in the town.

"Unfortunately, a group of DUP councillors have chosen to express their views otherwise."

However, the town's DUP mayor, Tommy Nicholl, said it was "a storm in a teacup".

A full meeting of the council will discuss the gift on Wednesday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's John Campbell:
"Three DUP councillors made clear their opposition"
See also:

11 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Sunday show decision deferred
08 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
Row brews over Sunday show
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