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France inaugurates first official Muslim cemetery

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07:31 CET+01:00

France inaugurated its first municipal Muslim cemetery in the city of Strasbourg on Monday, a move hailed by Islamic leaders as a step in recognising one of the country's largest minority groups.

Local officials and Muslim leaders attended a ceremony in the northeastern French city to launch the cemetery, which has space for about 1,000 graves.

Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, hailed the cemetery's opening as a "historic" moment for Muslims in France and said it was "an important symbol of belonging" for the community.

"If a religious community is to feel entirely at home in a city, it must be helped in building places for worship and for the burial of its believers," Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries told AFP.

France's 1905 law on the separation of church and state forbids the building of municipal cemeteries restricted to only one religion.

But the Alsace-Moselle region, which includes Strasbourg, operates under different basic laws dating from its reversion from German to French control after World War I.

Home to western Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, France has for years been debating how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam, now the country's second religion.

The country has come under fire from Muslim groups for a series of measures authorities say are aimed at protecting France's secular tradition, including a ban on wearing full-face veils such as the Islamic niqab and the burqa.

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