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Mosque opening sparks protests in Germany

Some 200 people slam the "Islamization of Europe"

About 200 people chanting anti-Muslim slogans demonstrated on Thursday as members of the Ahmadiya Muslim minority inaugurated eastern Germany's first mosque after years of controversy over its construction.

As German officials and members of the Ahmadiyah community gathered for the ceremony at the Heinersdorf mosque, demonstrators held banners reading "Stop the Islamization of Europe" and "Stop the Abuse of Religious Freedom".

The structure symbolizes "religious and cultural tolerance in our town," said Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, who was among the people attending the gathering.

The 1.6 million-euro ($ 2.15 million) mosque has a 12-meter (39-foot) high minaret and can hold up to 500 worshippers -- far larger than Berlin's 200-strong Ahmadiyah community which financed its construction.

Opponents of the Heinersdorf mosque had called for a protest against its inauguration, and a petition against its construction gathered some 20,000 signatures.

A few black-clad young men with shaved heads, a trademark right-wing style, joined the protest but the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) called off a march.

Supporters say the mosque will foster better ties.

"The mosque will be a hub of social activity, not just for praying," said Ijaz Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Ahmadiya mosque.

"It will play a role in boosting integration and promoting dialogue with politicians and other religious groups."

We have a big problem with sects that put religion above everything else, allow the beating of women and deny equal rights.

Local group

"Racist views"

The building of mosques and minarets has sparked controversy in Europe, with opponents criticizing growing Muslim influence in the region and foreign funding that sometimes bankrolls the construction.

The local citizens' group said Ahmadiya is a sect with racist and discriminatory views.

"We have a big problem with sects that put religion above everything else, allow the beating of women and deny equal rights," the group said on its website.

"Our opposition is directed at this sect's ideas and in particular its ideas about women," it said.

The Ahmadiya movement, whose slogan is "Love for all, hatred for no one", was founded in India in the 19th century. It defines itself as Muslim but is not recognized by mainstream Muslim groups because of different beliefs.

Germany is home to about 2,500 mosque communities and has 2,250 active imams. Most of its Muslims are of Turkish origin.

Plans for another mosque in Cologne have been on the cards for more than a year, with the project becoming a lightning rod for far-right groups in particular.