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Turkey: Hagia Sophia mosque open to all religions - Erdogan

Istanbul, Turkey: Hagia Sophia will be open to the believers of all religions, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, July 24 after attending the first Muslim prayers in the historic building.

Following the prayers, Erdogan visited the tomb of Mehmed the Conqueror', the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Istanbul from Byzantium and converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque. During his 17-year rule, Erdogan has championed Islam and religious observance and backed efforts to restore Hagia Sophia's mosque status. He said Muslims should be able to pray there again and raised the issue - popular with many pious supporters - during local elections last year.

Erdogan has reshaped Turkey's modern republic, established nearly a century ago by the staunchly secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, lifting a ban on Muslim headscarves in state institutions, promoting religious education and taming Turkey's powerful military, once a bastion of Ataturk's secular values.

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