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East Germany's first mosque to open amid protests

BERLIN (Reuters) - The first mosque in the ex-communist eastern part of Germany opens Thursday after years of opposition from some residents and the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD).

Workers construct a path in front of the newly built Ahmadiya mosque in the Heinersdorf district of Berlin October 15, 2008. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

The mosque, with room for about 250 people, is on the site of an old sauerkraut factory in the Berlin suburb of Pankow-Heinersdorf.

Attacks on the site and protests, some by residents and others by the NPD, have dogged the mosque’s construction.

Local politicians are due to attend the opening ceremony on Thursday evening and police are prepared for demonstrations, although the NPD has called off a march.

The resistance has highlighted Germany’s difficulty in integrating its 3.2 million Muslims into mainstream society, especially in the former communist east where few have settled.

Supporters say the mosque will foster better ties.

“The mosque will be a hub of social activity, not just for praying,” said Ijaz Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya mosque.

“It will play a role in boosting integration and promoting dialogue with politicians and other religious groups.”

The IPAHB local citizens group objects to the Ahmadiyya, which it says is a sect with racist and discriminatory views.

“We have a big problem with sects that put religion above everything else, allow the beating of women and deny equal rights,” says the IPAHB on its website.

“Our opposition is directed at this sect’s ideas and in particular its ideas about women,” it adds.

The Ahmadiyya movement, whose slogan is “Love for all, hatred for no one,” was founded in India in the 19th century. It defines itself as Muslim but is not recognized by some mainstream Muslim groups because of different beliefs.

Some Muslims, including many in Indonesia, say Ahmadiyya is heretical as it does not accept the Prophet Mohammad as Islam’s final prophet and says its founder is a prophet and messiah.

Germany’s roughly 30,000 Ahmadiyya members aim to have about 100 mosques in the country eventually.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, head of the predominantly Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU), has said mosque minarets should be built no higher than church steeples.

Germany’s biggest mosque, with a 34-metre-high minaret and room for 1,200 worshippers, is to open later this month in Duisburg, in the industrial state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany is home to about 2,500 mosque communities and has 2,250 active imams. Most of its Muslims are of Turkish origin.

Editing by Janet Lawrence