World Bulletin / News Desk
Spanish guards, employed by the Roman Catholic bishop, harshly reacted to Muslims, who wanted to pray at the world-famous Cordoba mosque.
Two Muslims were arrested when the visitors knelt to pray in the building, a former mosque turned into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century, Guardian reported.
A local bishop, Demetrio Fernández, recently insisted that a ban on Muslim prayers must remain.
Half a dozen members of a group of more than 100 Muslims from Austria has started praying among the marble columns and coloured arches of the vast building. But security guards ordered them to stop.
Cathedral authorities said the guards had invited the visitors to continue viewing the inside of a 24,000 sq metre building that was once the world's second biggest mosque, but without praying.
Local newspapers reported that a dozen police officers had been called into the building.
A group of local Muslim converts have long demanded for the right to pray at the mosque building.
"The building is very big and the main cathedral occupies only a part of it," said Mansur Escudero of the Junta Islamica group.
"They publicise the building as a mosque because that brings in tourists, but they do not allow the Muslims who pay money to go inside to pray," he said.
Escudero told Guardian, a space for Muslim prayers would not inconvenience visitors or disturb the cathedral and would promote dialogue and understanding between the two religions. He said there were frequent incidents of Muslims being prevented from praying.
"They argue that canon law does not allow Muslims to pray there, though they have been happy to permit visiting Saudi princes and other dignitaries, including Saddam Hussein, to pray," he said.
"A new bishop was appointed recently and one of his first public statements was to say that Muslim prayers would not be allowed as this would create confusion," he said. "It seems the guards have instructions to prevent prayers with violence, if necessary."
Yet, cathedral authorities reiterated their ban on prayers. "The shared use of the cathedral by Catholics and Muslims would not contribute to the peaceful coexistence of the two beliefs," the statement from the bishop's office argued.
The 23,400 sq metre mosque occupies an area equivalent to three football pitches and boasts 1,300 columns and more than 300 yellow and red horseshoe arches. There are only three larger mosques in the world – at the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the Turkish capital Istanbul, and the Moroccan port city of Casablanca.
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Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan's main islands.