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Don’t turn churches into mosques, says Sarkozy

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has signed a petition in a far–right magazine under the title “Don’t touch our churches” after a French Muslim leader called for former places of Christian worship to be converted into mosques.

Don't turn churches into mosques, says Sarkozy
Sarkozy, seen here visiting a mosque, has toughened his stance towards Islam. Photo: AFP

Sarkozy added his name to a list of signatories that includes controversial writer and political journalist Éric Zemmour and philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, as well as Jeannette Bougrab, partner of the late Stéphane Charbonnier, Charlie Hebdo editor .

The petition, published in the magazine Valeurs Actuelles comes after Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris said he was in favour of turning old churches into mosques due to the serious shortage of places of worship for Muslims.

In France there are currently 2,500 mosques, with another 300 under construction, but Boubakeur says the number falls far short of what is needed.

With upwards of 5 million Muslims in France – the largest Muslim population in Europe – Boubakeur and other imams suggest as many as 5,000 mosques are needed.

But his call stirred up a hornet’s nest and Sarkozy has come out firmly against the idea. So too has former French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

“The French Catholic churches [have been] part of the historical heritage of the French population for ten centuries,” he said.

A poll published alongside the petition suggests they are not alone, with 67 per cent of French people apparently opposed to the idea.

“Even if France [has been] deeply de-Christianised since the 1960s, there is a real commitment… to the Christian roots and their symbols,” Jerome Fourquet, Ifop’s director of opinion and strategy, told the magazine.

Sarkozy has toughened his stance towards Islam in recent months, calling for a ban on the veil in universities and substitute meals in schools.

The former president came under fire earlier this year when his Republicans party held a conference to debate the role of Islam in France. Muslim groups announced a boycott of the talks claiming they stigmatised their religion.

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ISLAM

Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

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