PRISTINA – Pressing for their demand of a new mosque in central Pristina, hundreds of Muslim Kosovars are planning to take to the streets for the third Friday in a row to raise their cause.
"Muslim believers need to have a new mosque in the centre of Pristina,” Fuad Ramiqi, leader of the Muslim "Bashkohu" group which advocates the cause, told Balkan Insight news portal on Thursday, June 30.
Ramiqi said that the Muslim community has been requesting a new mosque in Pristina's downtown for the past five years, but to no avail.
The Muslim community is complaining that they don't have sufficient space to accommodate the city's growing number of believers with only 22 mosques serving the city's Muslims.
The protests gained momentum when authorities demolished a high school in central Pristina to make way for a Roman Catholic cathedral.
But, Ramiqi denied that the protests had any connection with the newly inaugurated Catholic cathedral.
“We are not against the cathedral," Ramiqi said, but added Muslims also seek equal treatment.
Muslims complain that Catholics, though a small minority in Kosovo, face fewer obstacles than majority Muslims when it comes to obtaining permits for places of worship.
Home to nearly two million Muslim Albanians who make up more than 95 percent of its population, Kosovo is the second country with Muslim majority in Europe.
Before its 2008 independence, Kosovo was run by the UN after a 1999 NATO campaign which ended a wave of bloody ethnic cleansing by Serb forces that killed an estimated 10,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The calls for the Friday protest triggered police to warn that it will not allow people to block any streets.
“I think the answer is very clear. They cannot block the roads,” interior minister Bajram Rexhepi told journalists.
Last Friday, some 300 people prayed outside the Carshi Mosque to express their need of a new mosque.
In an attempt to clear the road, police scuffled with one protester and took him away for questioning.
But Ramiqi said the protest would take place at the same location as during the last two Friday protests, insisting that he had already notified the authorities.
“I don’t need police permission. I have informed them that the protest will be held,” Ramiqi said.
In an attempt to ease the tension, Pristina municipality said it has accepted the proposal for a new mosque in principle and was reviewing the plan.
“All such proposals must go through the municipal assembly," Muhamet Gashi, municipal spokesperson, told Balkan Insight.
"The location is then decided following mutual agreement between the municipality and Islamic Community.”
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