Standoff over China mosque
Beijing: Hundreds of ethnic Hui Muslims are staging a sit-in protest in China's western region of Ningxia against government plans to demolish a huge new mosque, amid tightening curbs on Islam to pull its practice in line with the Chinese mainstream.
China officially guarantees freedom of religion, but in recent years officials nervous about the possibility of radicalisation and violence have tightened controls in heavily Muslim areas.
The Weizhou grand mosque, with numerous domes and minarets in a West Asian style, had not received proper permits before construction, officials in the town of Weizhou said in a notice on August 3.
The mosque would be forcibly demolished on Friday, they added in the notice, widely circulated among Chinese Muslims on social media.
The order provoked anger among villagers, but talks between mosque representatives and officials have failed to reach agreement, as worshippers rejected a government plan to spare the mosque if its domes were replaced with pagodas more in keeping with Chinese style, one source in the area told Reuters.
Hundreds of villagers were gathering at the mosque on Friday morning, and the town's mayor was expected to hold discussions in the afternoon, added the source, who requested anonymity.
"If we sign, we are selling out our religious faith," a Weizhou mosque supporter said in a note on messaging app WeChat that was seen by Reuters, urging villagers not to sign on to the plan.
"I can't talk about this issue," said Ding Xuexiao, the mosque's director. Mosque imam Ma Liguo said the situation was "currently being coordinated". There was a protest at the mosque on Friday, a man at a government religious office in the county, the Islamic Association, confirmed, adding that the government only wanted the structure "renovated to reduce its scale". Reuters