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Greek protesters burn Turkish flag following Hagia Sophia conversion amid hostile statements

Greek protesters burned the Turkish flag [AFP]

Date of publication: 25 July, 2020

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Protesters in the Greek city of Thessaloniki burned Turkish flags after Muslim prayers were held in the Hagia Sophia, while the Turkish and Greek leaders made mutually hostile statements.
Angry protests took place throughout Greece after Turkey reopened the Hagia Sophia as a mosque on Friday.

In the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, right-wing protesters standing outside a church named Agia Sophia burned a Turkish flag in protest at the conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia to a mosque after it had been used as a museum for 86 years.

They held up signs that read "For Homeland, Nation, and Orthodoxy" and chanted anti-Turkish slogans before marching to the Turkish consulate.

The protesters were stopped from entering the consulate by police but burned another Turkish flag outside.

Protests were also held in Athens and other Greek cities.

Read more: Hagia Sophia conversion plan comes at testing times for Turkey's Erdogan

Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in 537 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian. In 1453 it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul by Sultan Mehmet II, who added four minarets to the structure.

In 1934, under the secular Turkish Republic, it became a museum but was converted again to a mosque this month after a decision by Turkey's top administrative court, the Council of State.

On Friday, Muslim prayers attended by thousands of worshippers including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were performed in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 86 years.

The Greek Orthodox Church declared a day of mourning to protest the conversion, with church bells tolling in protest across Greece. Greek flags flew at half mast on Friday.

The Greek government has strongly criticized Turkey’s move, with Greek Prie Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis calling Turkey a "troublemaker" and the Hagia Sophia conversion an "affront to civilisation of the 21st century".

"What is unfolding in Constantinople today is not a demonstration of strength, but proof of weakness," he added, referring to Istanbul by the old name of the city used by Greeks.

On Saturday, the Turkish government lambasted the Greek statements. Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said that the Greek reaction "once again revealed Greece's hostility towards Islam and Turkey".

He "strongly condemned" the burning of the Turkish flag in Thessaloniki, and accused the Greek government and parliament of "provoking the public with hostile statements".

"The spoiled children of Europe, who cannot accept renewed prostration in Hagia Sophia, are once again delusional," Aksoy added in a statement.

Tensions between Turkey and Greece have increased in recent weeks over disputes in the eastern Mediterranean as well as the Hagia Sophia.

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