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French mosque subsidy dropped in ‘foreign meddling’ row

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A controversial plan to use public money for building a mosque in Strasbourg stalled on Friday after the Turkish backers of the project dropped their request for a subsidy, Agence France-Presse reported.

The pullback came after Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin accused the eastern French city, led by Green mayor Jeanne Barseghian, of supporting “foreign meddling” on French soil with a planned subsidy for the mosque.

The public money, 2.5 million euros (nearly $3 million), was to go to the Milli Görüş Islamic Confederation (CMIG), a pan-European movement for the Turkish diaspora.

But in a letter published in Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace, a regional paper, Barseghian said the group had now dropped its subsidy request because of a “need to consolidate their financing plan.”

Despite an earlier vote backing the payout in principle, the city would “therefore not, as things stand, pay a subsidy for the continuation of the construction of the mosque.”

She said the subsidy had been always been contingent on the CMIG signing a new anti-extremism charter championed by President Emmanuel Macron, which the organization had refused to do.

Two other Muslim confederations active in France have also declined to sign the charter, which is part of government attempts to crack down on Islamic extremism, blamed for a series of terror attacks in France since 2015.

Macron wants the groups to commit in writing to renouncing “political Islam” and to respecting French law.

The government has also drafted legislation that would force Muslim groups to declare major foreign funding and would give the state increased powers to shut down speech judged to spread hate or violence.

Relations between France and Turkey have been battered by disputes over the conflicts on Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, and Turkish accusations of Islamophobia in France.

Macron has also warned against possible Turkish meddling in France’s presidential election next year.

“I am delighted that those two-and-a-half million euros won’t be financing an association that promotes political Islam,” deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa told LCI TV on Friday.

She added that Milli Görüş’s alleged links to the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and its refusal to sign the charter were not in themselves grounds for banning the organization outright.

Darmanin last month asked the government’s top regional representative, Josiane Chevalier, to file an administrative court complaint to stop the subsidy for the Strasbourg mosque.

Mayor Barseghian responded at the time that the funds would be contingent on Milli Görüş presenting both a solid financing plan and “a reaffirmation of the values of the Republic.”

On Friday Chevalier told AFP that she would still seek confirmation from the city of Strasbourg that the subsidy had indeed been officially and legally withdrawn.

CMIG has said it refused to sign the charter because it had not been allowed to fully participate in its elaboration and that it neither answers to the Turkish government nor pursues any Islamist agenda.

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