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Turkish president Erdogan formally makes Hagia Sophia a mosque
Change of status
In a televised address to the nation, Erdogan said the first prayers inside Hagia Sofia would be held on July 24, and he urged respect for the decision.
The minarets were added later, and the building was turned into an imperial mosque following the 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople-- the city that is now called Istanbul.
The building opened its doors as a museum in 1935, a year after the Council of Ministers' decision. Mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary and Christian saints that were plastered over in line with Islamic rules were uncovered through arduous restoration work for the museum.
In the capital of Ankara, legislators stood and applauded as the decision was read in Parliament.
``Like all of our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals or foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,'' Erdogan said.
UNESCO contests the move
``States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the `outstanding universal value' of inscribed sites on their territories,'' Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.
Reactions from the neighbours
In Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki, protesters gathered outside a church and chanted, ``We'll light candles in Hagia Sophia!'' and held Greek flags and Byzantine banners.
Cyprus ``strongly condemns Turkey's actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations,'' tweeted Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides.
The debate goes on
The group that brought the case to court had contested the legality of the 1934 decision by the modern Turkish republic's secular government ministers, arguing the building was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453.
What US said
Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the Hagia Sophia issue to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party.