Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at Hagia Sophia. Above, visitors inside the UNESCO World Heritage site. (AFP)
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Updated 12 July 2020

Pope Francis ‘very distressed’ over Turkey’s Hagia Sophia conversion to mosque

  • ‘My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed’

VACTICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Sunday he was “very distressed” over Turkey’s decision to convert the Byzantine-era monument Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
“My thoughts go to Istanbul. I’m thinking about Hagia Sophia. I am very distressed,” the pope said in the Vatican’s first reaction to a decision that has drawn international criticism.
The Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano had on Saturday carried reaction from different countries about Friday’s decision to turn the monument from a museum back into a mosque but without any comment.
A magnet for tourists worldwide, the Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who critics say is chipping away at the Muslim-majority country’s secular pillars, announced Friday that Muslim prayers would begin on July 24 at the UNESCO World Heritage site.
In the past, he has repeatedly called for the stunning building to be renamed as a mosque and in 2018, he recited a verse from the Qur'an at Hagia Sophia.
Erdogan’s announcement came after a top court canceled a 1934 cabinet decision under modern Turkey’s secularizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to preserve the church-turned-mosque as a museum.


Lebanon to ease virus curbs from Monday

Updated 34 min 22 sec ago

Lebanon to ease virus curbs from Monday

  • The health minister said Lebanon “will gradually reopen from Monday” to give citizens and businesses a respite ahead of Christmas

BEIRUT: Lebanon is from Monday to gradually ease restrictions imposed two weeks ago after a surge in coronavirus infections, in a bid to relieve its struggling economy in time for the festive season, officials said.
Acting health minister Hamad Hassan told reporters the country “will gradually reopen from Monday” to give citizens and businesses a respite ahead of Christmas and end of year holidays.
He said restaurants will reopen at 50 percent capacity, but bars and nightclubs will remain closed and weddings prohibited, while an overnight curfew will start from 11 p.m. instead of 5pm.
Schools would also reopen but with some classes still held online, Hassan said after a meeting of Lebanon’s coronavirus task force.
He warned that the “danger” of a rise in infections still exists and that the hoped-for results to stem the virus thanks to the curbs would not be known for several days.
Before the two-week restrictions went into force in mid-November, bed occupancy in hospital intensive care units was between 80 and 90 percent while “now it stands at 65-70 percent,” Hassan said.
Since February, the country has recorded more than 125,000 Covid-19 cases, including around 1,000 deaths.
Lebanon, with a population of around six million, had been recording some 11,000 coronavirus infections on average each week before mid-November, according to the health ministry.
A first country-wide lockdown imposed in March was effective in stemming the spread of the virus, before restrictions were gradually lifted as summer beckoned people outdoors.
But the number of cases surged following a monstrous blast at Beirut’s port on August 4 that killed more than 200 people, wounded at least 6,500 and overwhelmed hospitals.
The blast and the pandemic have exacerbated tensions in the Mediterranean country which has been grappling with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.