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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 06:02 GMT 07:02 UK
Religious leaders promote harmony
Muslim community
The council hopes to unite religious communities
Leaders of all the main religions in Wales gathered with First Minister Rhodri Morgan at the first meeting of the Interfaith Council.

The forum, which aims to overcome religious and racial intolerance, was set up after the 11 September terrorist attacks in America.

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan will chair the council

Ever since, Muslim communities across the world complained of being wrongly blamed for the attacks.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan responded to fears in Wales by calling together leaders from all faiths.

They include Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish representatives.

The first meeting, on Thursday in Cardiff, was described as a "historic occasion" by Mr Morgan.

One item due to be discussed was the issue of faith-based schools.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams, defended them in a speech on Wednesday, although the Welsh Assembly Government opposes creating any more.

Racist abuse

The main thrust of discussion will be the promotion of religious and ethnic harmony at a time of increased tensions.

Following the 11 September attacks, Muslim leaders investigated a claim that a woman ripped a headscarf from a Muslim schoolgirl in Swansea, south Wales.

There were also claims that mosques became the focus of abuse across Wales.

And in March, former Ku Klux Klan member Alan Beshella was jailed for racially harassing a Muslim shopkeeper in Maesteg, south Wales.

Anti-racist campaigners have expressed concern about his plans to return to the area on his release from prison.

The council will enable us to harness the spirit of unity and co-operation so clearly in evidence after 11 September

First Minister Rhodri Morgan

In the meeting on Thursday, First Minister Rhodri Morgan will chair the council, with 15 other members nominated by faith communities in Wales.

Members will represent the Baha'i, Christian Evangelical, Christian Free Church, Christian Church in Wales, Christian Roman Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities.

"The Interfaith Council will enable us to harness the spirit of unity and co-operation which was so clearly in evidence after 11 September," said Mr Morgan.

"The council will address problems of religious and racial intolerance, but will also provide a vital forum to discuss other issues of common interest which have an impact on religious communities in Wales."

Wales Office Minister Don Touhig will also attend the meeting.

"The (UK) Government shares the Welsh Assembly's commitment to promoting a better understanding between our different religious groups," said Mr Touhig.

"It is part of our wider commitment to building a more tolerant society."

BBC Wales's Rhun ap Iorwerth
"Rhodri Morgan brought politicians and religious leaders together within weeks of the September attacks"
BBC Wales's Simon Morris
"The main thrust of discussions will be about how to promote religious and ethnic harmony"
See also:

28 Jan 02 | Wales
Tackling Valleys racist crime
16 May 00 | UK Politics
Row over race crime figures
18 May 99 | From Our Own Correspondent
Multicultural Wales
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