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South Africa opens giant Turkish-built mosque complex

South Africa on Thursday inaugurated a giant mosque complex built by Turkey, with 55-meter (180-foot) Ottoman minarets towering over a religious center the authorities described as the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

The Nizamiye mosque dominates the clear skies on the main highway between the capital Pretoria and economic hub Johannesburg.

President Jacob Zuma cut a red ribbon at the entrance to the structure, flanked by government ministers from South Africa and Turkey.

Built in three years, the complex houses a central mosque, bazaar, Islamic school, sports grounds and a clinic.

Wealthy Turkish property developer Orhan Celik built the complex with the blessing of Nelson Mandela, revered Nobel Laureate and the country’s first black president.

Mandela had insisted that a clinic be included.

The magnificent yellow structure, with its 24-meter (80-foot) diameter dome, is a replica of the 16th century Selimiye Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the town of Edirne in Turkey.

“We are not thousands of kilometers away from home, because we are home here,” Turkey’s Minister of Economy Zafer Caglayan told hundreds of dignitaries at the opening banquet.

Blue Iznik ceramic tiles imported from Turkey decorated the mosque’s walls.

It is named after Nizam al-Mulk, a Persian hero who lived in the 11th century.

“The Nizamiye mosque will help promote further understanding and tolerance between diverse religions,” said Zuma to loud applause.

The complex is the largest religious educational center in South Africa, and the southern hemisphere’s largest mosque complex in area, authorities said.

A Turkish business delegation accompanied Caglayan.

Trade between the two countries reached 7 billion rands ($822 million, 635 million euros) in 2011, a 44-percent increase on the previous year, according to official figures.