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Around 700 Muslim pilgrims cross to visit Tekke (Updated)

Photo: CNA

Amid a strong police presence, around 700 Muslim pilgrims from the north crossed to the south of the island on Tuesday morning to pray at the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque in Larnaca to mark the end of Kurban Bayram.

According to police, around 4am, four buses arrived at the mosque for early prayers, and another group followed an hour later.  By 11am, total of 15 buses had crossed, transporting around 700 pilgrims.
The buses arrived at the mosque with a police escort, while a police helicopter hovered over the mosque area.

Police will remain out in force until the pilgrims went back to the north around 3pm.

Police had taken strict security measures by closing the road about 300 metres from the entrance to the mosque, which was closed to the general public for the duration.

The entrance to the mosque was also forbidden to journalists.
Members of the Traffic Police, MMAD and the police departments of Nicosia and Larnaca are involved in the operation. Unficyp personnel were also facilitating.

The pilgrimage was allowed to go ahead after the government gave permission.

The government had pledged not to hamper the visit despite the cancellation of an Orthodox church service in the north at the weekend because the Turkish Cypriot authorities said it clashed with Bayram. The move to stop Orthodox faithful from celebrating the feast of Ayios Mamas in Morphou drew huge condemnation on the Greek Cypriot side.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Tuesday the government deplores the fact that the Turkish Cypriot authorities prohibited the Ayios Mamas service because constituted a limit of religious freedom.
The Greek Cypriot side would not play the same game, he added.
“We have been handling the pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke as a pilgrimage of Muslims, irrelevant of their status, legal or illegal in the occupied areas, as we always did.”

Kasoulides acknowledged there may have been illegal settlers among those Muslims who crossed but he said the Greek Cypriot side would honour a decision taken during the inter-communal religious dialogue to allow them to visit the shrine.

He said the collapse of the talks in Crans-Montana had no bearing on this.

 

 

 

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