Turkey delays decision on turning Hagia Sophia into mosque

Turkey's highest administrative body, The Council of State, delayed a decision on whether the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul can be converted into a mosque, news wires reported. After a hearing lasting just 17 minutes, the court said it would make a ruling within 15 days.

The 1,500 year old Unesco World Heritage site was originally a cathedral before becoming a mosque and then a museum in the 1930s.  It may become a mosque again if the court approves the move. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for the change during an election rally last year.

Islamists in Turkey have long called for it to be converted, but secular opposition members have opposed the move. The proposal has prompted international criticism, from religious and political leaders worldwide. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has criticised the proposal, as has Greece - home to many millions of Orthodox followers.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni accused Turkey of reviving "fanatical nationalist and religious sentiment", insisting no change to a Unesco World Heritage site can take place without being approved by the body's own intergovernmental committee. Unesco deputy director Ernesto Ottone Ramirez agreed that wider approval was needed, in an interview with Greek newspaper Ta Nea. The UN body had written to Turkey about the proposal, but received no reply, he said.

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