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Turkey: Erdogan unveils 'mosque' sign at Hagia Sophia entrance

Istanbul, Turkey: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan unveiled the new sign for "The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque" on Thursday, July 23, a day before the first Muslim prayers are held in Istanbul's controversial landmark.

Hagia Sophia served as a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before it was seized by Ottoman conquerors and converted to a mosque. Muslims prayed there until 1934 when it became a museum. But a Turkish court recently annulled the decree that turned it into a museum, opening the way for the sixth-century building to be converted back into a mosque, a move backed by Erdogan.

The decision unleashed a torrent of criticism from church leaders, who said the conversion to exclusively Muslim worship risked deepening religious divisions. Turkey says the site will remain open for visitors and its Christian artworks protected.

Christian frescoes and the glittering mosaics adorning the cavernous dome and central hall will be concealed by curtains during Muslim prayer times, but remain on display for the rest of the time.

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