Italy puts off mosque plan, rightists celebrate

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ROME, Sep 19 (Reuters) Italian authorities in Bologna have put off construction of a mosque pending consultation with local residents in a move hailed today as a victory by the far-right Northern League party.

Bologna's left-wing mayor said the 6,000-square-metre mosque complex in the San Donato neighbourhood would go ahead but that residents should have a chance to vet the plans and ''discuss the size of the building and its exact location''.

The city council will give its verdict by the end of October. Construction work had been scheduled to start in January next year.

''We will take into account the feelings of the neighbourhood and then we will decide. But I insist the mosque will be built and it will be built in that area,'' said Mayor Sergio Cofferati.

This was hailed as a victory by the Northern League, one of whose leaders offended Muslims by calling last week for a ''Pig Day'' protest against the mosque, promising to defile the site by taking along his own pig.

Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat too filthy to touch.

Tensions have flared repeatedly between Italy's predominantly Catholic population and the growing Muslim community over sites for new mosques.

Residents in Genoa protested earlier this month at plans to build a mosque near a Catholic church and last year protesters left a pig's head at a mosque building site in Tuscany.

The Northern League, which frequently voices anti-immigrant views that would cause outrage elsewhere in Europe, seized on the arrest of one imam in Italy in July on terrorism charges to call for all mosques to be closed for security checks.

Northern League parliamentarian Roberto Marini called the halt to the Bologna mosque a ''victory'' but said: ''The battle is not yet won. We must make sure Cofferati's council doesn't use some trick to build the mosque against the will of the people.'' Leading Italian Muslim journalist Magdi Allam wrote in Corriere della Sera newspaper: ''Good sense has prevailed in Bologna'', arguing that a mosque ''cannot be imposed against the will of the citizens''.

REUTERS GL RK2335

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