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Russia's Chechnya inaugurates vast new mosque

GROZNY, Russia (Reuters) - Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov opened one of Europe’s biggest mosques in the rebuilt capital of the southern Russian region Friday, saying it was proof Russian rule and Islam can go together. The mosque, named “The Heart of Chechnya” and constructed by Turkish builders, can host up to 10,000 worshippers. Its minarets rise as high as 62 m (200 ft) and the complex extends over 14 hectares (35 acres), including a vast garden.

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“With the start of the Chechen war, the enemies of Islam and foes of Russia alleged that Russia wages war against Islam and the Chechen people,” Kadyrov told the opening ceremony.

Russia has fought two wars in Chechnya against Muslim rebels but has succeeded in largely pacifying the region and has spent large sums repairing war damage.

“The adversaries of Russia’s revival used the Chechen republic and Islam as an instrument to destroy Russia as a sovereign state,” Kadyrov added. “But the Chechens ... have defended the integrity of Russia and the purity of Islam.”

In 1996, Chechnya won effective independence from Russia after a 20 month-war in which tens of thousands were killed.

Three years later Russia’s then-prime minister Vladimir Putin moved troops into Chechnya to retake the region.

During Putin’s subsequent presidency from 2000-2008, the rebellion was extinguished.

Ramzan Kadyrov’s father Akhmad was a former rebel mufti who sided with Moscow in the second war. He was instrumental in imposing Russian rule in Chechnya but was assassinated by rebels in 2004. The Grozny mosque was built in his memory.

Ramzan Kadyrov, who has followed his father’s loyalty to Moscow, also encourages the revival of Islam in the predominantly Muslim region, while crushing any attempts to use Islam as a banner for guerrilla actions.

The Grozny mosque, which Russian and Chechen officials have said is one of the biggest in Europe, will also host an Islamic center.

Grozny, almost completely destroyed during the Chechen wars, is now being rebuilt.

Putin, who has again become prime minister after handing over the presidency in May to his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev, visited the mosque Thursday.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; editing by Philippa Fletcher