Morocco's government plans to double spending this year on rebuilding decaying mosques, Islamic affairs minister Ahmed Toufiq said after 41 worshippers died when a 400-year-old minaret collapsed.
But Toufiq, whose ministry controls the north African country's 50,000 mosques, warned that similar tragedies could happen before the delicate restoration work is completed.
Toufiq blamed bad weather for accelerating the minaret's decay and preventing repairs before it collapsed last Friday, and denied there was any human responsibility.
"The Moroccan exception is that religious affairs are under the direct leadership of Amir al Mouminine, who has a contract with the nation to protect its foundations, including the material welfare of citizens and their spiritual security," Toufiq told Reuters in an interview.
Morocco is the only Muslim country where its king is both head of state and Commander of the Faithful (Amir al Mouminine), with ultimate responsibility for spiritual life.
Morocco launched a plan in 2006 to repair or build 641 mosques, of which 87 are threatened by ruin, at a cost of 255 million dirhams.
Toufiq said the ministry would spend 60 million dirhams ($7.29 million) this year to rebuild or restore 13 mosques, more than double the figure in 2009.
"We completed the restoration or rebuilding of 148 mosques at a cost of 119.8 million dirhams, of which 28 were rebuilt or refurbished last year," he said in the interview, which was conducted on Sunday.
However, he added: "Similar accidents of this kind could happen; we cannot guarantee that they will not occur again."
The Lalla Khenata mosque minaret in the old Bab el Bardiyine district of the imperial city of Meknes collapsed during Friday prayers, killing the 41 worshippers and injuring more than 80 others.
Angry residents accused authorities of ignoring earlier warnings about the dilapidated state of the mosque.
"These people died not by a strange disease that came down from another moon or because of holy war," wrote Taoufik Bouachrine, editor of the daily Akhbar al Youm. "They were inside a mosque under the government's responsibility."
Judges were investigating why the minaret fell but minister Toufiq denied the government was responsible and blamed bad weather. "A crack appeared in the minaret wall in January and we dispatched an expert and her findings did not specify the need to shut the mosque down," Toufiq told Reuters on Sunday.
"The mosque needed restoration and we planned to do it but continuing rains prevented us from doing it before the disaster. So there is no human responsibility for that because there was no neglect of duty," he insisted.
ReutersLast Mod: 22 Şubat 2010, 21:03