Erhan Arikli, the north’s ‘transport minister’, said on Monday that plans to construct a masjid, a Muslim place of worship, on the grounds of the Apostolos Andreas monastery, have not been abandoned.

He accused those arguing against the planned construction of having an “anti-democratic approach”, asking “why does it bother them who is turning two rooms into a prayer room?”.

He added that it is his “greatest dream” to build a mosque next to the monastery and added “I would like to create a place where religions are practised with tolerance”.

In addition, he said that some people see churches and mosques as rivals and said “people’s hairs stand on end when they hear the word ‘mosque’.”

Arikli’s statements come four days after Suleyman Cebi, mukhtar of the Polatpasha neighbourhood of Rizokarpaso, which also covers the monastery, told the Cyprus Mail that plans to install a masjid were “on hold”.

The plans caused controversy across the island, with government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis calling for the issue to “be approached with due care and mutual respect”.

Meanwhile, Turkish Cypriot politicians including former ‘prime minister’ Tufan Erhurman also condemned the move, calling on those in favour of the plans to “learn some diplomacy and get on the right footing and show that we defend all of the cultural heritage on the island”.

Arikli himself had also previously weighed in on the matter, accusing critics of the plans of having “verbal diarrhoea, which can only be solved by psychologists”.