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22 Aug, 2016 10:13

‘Italy isn’t Islamic suburb’: Pisa residents rally against mosque construction near Leaning Tower

Hundreds of residents of the Italian city of Pisa have staged a rally, calling for others to sign a petition against the planned construction of a mosque only 400 meters to the city’s main attraction, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The rally was organized at the city market of the city of some 90,000 residents. According to Ruptly video agency, hundreds of people took part in the protest.

“We have to halt the construction of new mosques to prevent Italy from becoming an Islamic suburb to avoid losing our identity,” right wing MP and leader of the ‘No Mosque Campaign’ Daniela Santanche said.

“For this [we organize] a ‘No Mosque’ [petition to hold a] referendum, we have collected many more signatures that is needed by law. First, we need to create a law to regulate Mosques' and imam's actions and then hold discussions.”

She called on the people of Italy to “go on and fight for [their] national identity and the pride of being called Italians not only by law, but by [their] traditions and culture.”

“Hate is not coming from our side. We do not place bombs in airports, subways or places, where young people listen to music. That is why hate is coming from them [Muslim terrorists]. We Italians have always been kind. But now we are looking at pseudo-solidarity.”

Reports that the Pisa City Council approved the construction of the mosque 400 meters from the Leaning Tower symbol appeared in Italian media earlier in August.

Shortly after that an Egyptian-born Christian convert Magdi Allam launched a petition against the construction under hashtag #nomoschea. Those signatures are needed to launch a city referendum which may be scheduled as soon as November to decide the fate of the mosque, local media report.

The petition has already gathered 2,500 signatures, according to the organizers.

Pisa residents are divided over the issue of having a mosque in the city, with some saying they have certain concerns and feel uneasy about it.

“The problem is that we don’t know Arabic and can't understand what they are talking about. We don’t know who is praying in this mosque,” one woman told RT.

“In 20 to 30 years they will be in charge here! And it’s sad that the officials still cannot understand that we, real Italians, are evaporating,” another added.

One woman questioned the source of financing the building which is expected to cost €4.5million.

“I respect the fact that they want to build a mosque and pray there. But would I be allowed if I wanted to build a catholic church in an Islamic country? And more so - where is the money coming from for the building?” she said.

Yet, there were those who supported the idea of constructing a mosque next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“I say yes to mosques. I live right opposite the place, where they are going to build it. I am happy - they have cleaned up the area,” one woman told RT.

A young man added that the mosque is “absolutely normal.”

“Everyone can pray to their own god. In Morocco and in Casablanca [Morocco] there are seven Christian churches. I don’t see any problem in building one mosque here,” he said.

The move to build a mosque was supported by Pisa Mayor Marco Filippesch, who called for freedom of worship.

On Thursday, local Imam Mohammad Khalil told Italian media that the mosque will be “a guarantee of safety” because “it is much more controllable than [meeting in] dozens of garages and basements," he said.

READ MORE: ISIS-sympathizer that threatened Leaning Tower of Pisa to be expelled from Italy – media

The protest comes a week after an Italian court ordered the expulsion of Tunisian national Bilel Chiahoui, suspected of planning an attack on the Leaning Tower. He was also accused of praising militants that had carried out terrorist attacks in Western Europe.