Erdogan rebuffs criticism over Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque Jul 12, 2020 0 266 12345 AFPIstanbulPresident Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday rejected worldwide condemnation over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, saying it represented his country’s will to use its “sovereign rights”.Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.“Those who do not take a step against Islamophobia in their own countries ... attack Turkey’s will to use its sovereign rights,” Erdogan said during a ceremony he attended via video-conference.A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularising founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.Erdogan then signed a presidential decree handing the control of the “Hagia Sophia Mosque” to Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, Diyanet.“We made this decision not looking at what others say but looking what our right is and what our nation wants, just like what we have done in Syria, in Libya and elsewhere,” the Turkish leader said Saturday.Erdogan went ahead with the plan despite appeals from NATO ally the United States and from Russia, with which Ankara has forged close relations in recent years. Greece swiftly condemned the move as a provocation, France deplored it while the United States also expressed disappointment.Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Saturday Moscow regretted the decision.But Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, told AFP the move would win hearts and minds at home as most Turks “would favour such a decision for religious or nationalist sentiments.On Saturday, police had put up barriers around the Hagia Sophia.On Friday, Erdogan gave assurances that the Hagia Sophia would be open to all visitors, including non-Muslims.“The Hagia Sophia’s doors will remain open to visitors from all around the world,” his press aide, Fahrettin Altun tweeted Saturday.“People of all religious denominations are welcome and encouraged to visit it - just as they have been able to visit other mosques, including the Blue Mosque.” Pages 123 RELATED ARTICLES Iraq PM vows to fight customs corruption at border with Iran Jul 12, 2020 0 326 Iran says cannot shut down economy despite worsening virus outbreak Jul 12, 2020 0 262 Mali PM vows to quickly form an ‘open’ government Jul 12, 2020 0 812 Hospitals in north-west Syria only treating emergencies due to virus DPA Damascus Hospitals in the rebel-controlled stronghold of Idlib in north-western Syria have limited their work to emergency cases after the first infection of the novel coronavirus was recorded in the region, a .. New Tunisia protests over unemployment AFP Tunis Hundreds of Tunisians demonstrated in the south of the country on Saturday against unemployment and the death of a young man they say was killed by soldiers earlier this week. Protesters in the town of Remada .. Two dead, eight rescued in Lagos building collapse Lagos A two-storey residential building under renovation collapsed overnight in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos, killing two and injuring eight, the emergency services said on Saturday. Building collapses are .. Burkina Faso ruling party backs President Kabore for re-election Ouagadougou Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore on Saturday won his party’s backing to run for a second term, despite struggling to crush a bloody jihadist insurgency. Simon Compaore, president of the .. Egypt grounds kites for ‘safety’, ‘national security’ AFP Cairo Egyptian police have seized kites from people flying them after a ban by a northern governorate for “safety” reasons and a lawmaker’s warning they posed a “national security threat”. Police seized 369 kites in ..