Crowds gathered in Istanbul as the historic Hagia Sophia site opened for Friday prayers for the first time since Turkish authorities ruled it could be converted into a mosque.
“Muslims are excited, everyone wants to be at the opening,” Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said on Thursday.
The 1,500-year-old Unesco World Heritage site became a museum in 1934.
But a Turkish court annulled its status, saying any use other than as a mosque was “not possible legally”.
The decision to turn it back into a mosque was criticised by religious and political leaders worldwide.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded quickly to the July ruling, vowing that the world-famous site would be ready for Friday prayers from 24 July, and he was seen joining worshippers at around midday (09:00 GMT).
About 1,000 people were allowed in through security checkpoints, while others laid out prayer mats outside.
Hagia Sophia was built as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and first converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest nine centuries later.
While there was considerable excitement as crowds headed to the Unesco site, not everyone was happy. The secular opposition party that runs Istanbul has described the move to turn it back into a mosque after 86 years as political rather than religious.
In neighbouring Greece, which was marking the anniversary of the restoration of democracy in 1974, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis conveyed a message of sorrow to millions of Greek Orthodox Christians. Hagia Sophia’s change of status by Turkey was not a show of power, but evidence of weakness, he declared.
Outside Hagia Sophia
By Neyran Elden, BBC Turkish
Tens of thousands of men and women waited for the call to prayer – many had travelled from cities across Turkey.
Worshippers took their places on the grass or on the pavement. The lucky ones found shade under a tree.
Security was tight across the historic peninsula of Istanbul, and at one point dozens of worshippers broke through a police checkpoint. A group of men waved Turkish flags and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest).
While a significant section of Turkish society has criticised the change to a mosque, the emotion and enthusiasm outside it was palpable. A 45-year-old woman said she had always liked Hagia Sophia as a museum, but “always thought it was a cold building”.
Now was the moment for Turkey to reinforce its independence, she added. “We have been waiting for this moment since our childhood.”
What was it like inside?
In a televised address on Thursday, Governor Yerlikaya urged those attending prayers on Friday to bring “[face] masks, a prayer rug, patience and understanding” to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
He added that healthcare workers would be made available at the site.
Inside, a turquoise carpet had been laid on the floor to prepare for prayers and Christian relics were covered up with white drapes or obscured by lighting.
Scaffolding was erected inside the dome as builders scrambled to convert the interior of the ancient building. By Friday the scaffolding was largely covered by red panelling.
Among the Christian mosaics expected to be obscured during Muslim prayer was the 9th-Century mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Jesus inside the apse.
Why was Erdogan’s move controversial?
Islamist groups and devout Muslims in Turkey had long called for Hagia Sophia to become a mosque again, but secular opposition members opposed the move.
When President Erdogan announced the decision on 10 July, it was met with widespread criticism.
Pope Francis responded by saying that his “thoughts go to Istanbul”, adding: “I think of Santa Sophia and I am very pained.”
The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew I, warned that the conversion of the building would “disappoint millions of Christians” and fracture two worlds.
The World Council of Churches, a worldwide Christian organisation, warned the decision would sow division.
Unesco said it regretted the move, which further enflamed tensions with neighbouring Greece, home to millions of Orthodox followers.
But Mr Erdogan stressed that the country had exercised its sovereign right.
“After 86 years, Hagia Sophia will serve as a mosque again, in the way Fatih the conqueror of Istanbul had indicated in his deed,” he said.
He added that the building would remain open to all Muslims, non-Muslims and foreign visitors.
Many Turks were sceptical. A former Erdogan ally, Ali Babacan, said Hagia Sophia had “come to the agenda now only to cover up other problems”.
Novelist Orhan Pamuk told the BBC earlier this month that converting it back to a mosque was a statement to the world that Turks did not want to be secular any more, even though millions of Turks had been happy with its status as a museum.
Kemal Ataturk changed… Hagia Sophia from a mosque to a museum, honouring all previous Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic history, making it as a sign of Turkish modern secularism
The head of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said that all the president was concerned with was domestic politics. And a July opinion poll suggested 43% of Turks saw the move as a way of avoiding discussion of the country’s economic difficulties.
What’s the history?
The iconic, domed building sits in Istanbul’s Fatih district, on the west bank of the Bosporus, overlooking the Golden Horn harbour.
Hagia Sophia’s complex history began almost 1,500 years ago, when Byzantine emperor Justinian built the huge church in the year 537.
In 1453, in a devastating blow to the Byzantines, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II captured Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) and Hagia Sophia – an Orthodox Christian cathedral – was converted into a mosque for Friday prayers.
Four minarets were added to the exterior, while ornate Christian icons and gold mosaics were covered with panels of Arabic religious calligraphy.
After centuries at the heart of the Muslim Ottoman empire, it was turned into a museum in 1934 in a drive to make Turkey more secular.
It has since become one of its most popular tourist sites, receiving more than 3.7 million visitors last year.
Although it has had a small prayer room since 1991, and calls to the faithful have been heard before, Friday’s event is the first mass prayers inside the site since the 1930s.
A Health Minister Has Admitted People With Coronavirus Symptoms May Be Denied A Test Due To Rationing
3 min read
The Health Minister Edward Argar has admitted some people with coronavirus symptoms could be refused an immediate test under plans to ration them to deal with a processing backlog.
He said despite a “ramping up” of testing capacity by the government it would need to prioritise “frontline NHS care workers, teachers and similar”.
As a result, Mr Argar told the BBC: “It is possible there will be people who have symptoms who apply for a test who have to wait longer, because we are prioritising those key frontline workers who we need to keep our NHS and care system working.”
He insisted anyone with symptoms should still apply for a test, but admitted while the prioritisation plans are in place – which are due to be revealed formally by health secretary Matt Hancock later today, they may not be offered one.
“That’s not saying if you don’t fit into those groups and you’ve got symptoms, ‘don’t do it’,” the minister explained.
“If you’ve got symptoms, apply for a test.”
He said the government was hoping that “Mr and Mrs Smith” would still be able to get a test “in a timely fashion”.
Mr Argar also rubbished claims the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is pushing for a new national lockdown to deal with the surge in new coronavirus cases.
He echoed the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, who said the financial consequences of such a move would be “disastrous”.
Mr Argar said: “We are guided by the science but we’re not necessarily guided by the speculation in the press.
“It’s not something I’ve heard from Chris. And it’s something the prime minister clearly doesn’t want to see.”
He told Sky News: “I know there’s speculation in the press today. But it’s not something I’ve seen within the department.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear about this, he doesn’t want to see another national lockdown.
“He wants to see people abiding by the regulations and making the local lockdowns work and get that infection rate down.”
The comments follow Mr Johnson’s evidence to the liaison committee in Parliament yesterday, where he said: “I don’t want a second national lockdown, I think it would be completely wrong for this country,” he told a group of senior MPs.
“We are going to do everything in our power to prevent it.
“Can we afford it? I very much doubt that the financial consequences would be anything but disastrous.”
Mr Argar also claimed the sharp rise in coronavirus cases can be controlled through local measures, telling the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We saw in Leicester it worked, we saw those rates come right down – it does work and it does control it at a local level.
“I don’t think we are at a place where we would wish to see or need to see a national level of restrictions.”
The shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said “nobody wants to see another national lockdown”, but to avoid it there needs to be a “functioning” test, track and trace system.
He told Sky News the government “is getting this wrong”, adding: “Now that we’ve got more people going out and about as the economy opens, people are being encouraged to go back to work, children are going to school, young people are going to university, the risk of infections spreading is greater.
“But we don’t have the test, track and trace system that could keep everybody safe. So we risk further local or even national lockdowns.
“The fault of this has to be laid squarely at the feet of the government.”
Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar poised to win after stunning time-trial ride
Tadej Pogacar is set to win the Tour de France ahead of strong favourite Primoz Roglic in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the race’s history.
Pogacar, 21, will be confirmed as the youngest winner for 111 years at the end of Sunday’s largely processional stage to Paris.
The UAE-Team Emirates rider overhauled a 57-second deficit to Roglic, who was thought to be a far stronger rider on stage 20’s time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.
It will be a first Grand Tour victory for Slovenian Pogacar, who took the yellow jersey from compatriot Roglic after he had held it for 13 days.
Pogacar is now 59 seconds ahead of Roglic at the end of a day of drama reminiscent of the 1989 Tour, when Greg LeMond unexpectedly overhauled Laurent Fignon in a final-day time trial to win by eight seconds.
Richie Porte of Trek-Segafredo will be on the podium in Paris for the first time, taking third, three minutes and 30 seconds down.
Pogacar won the stage, one minute 21 seconds ahead of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team-mate Tom Dumoulin. Porte climbed to third overall after finishing in third place on the stage.
Britain’s Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott will finish ninth in the general classification, 9mins 25secs behind the winner.
What happened to Roglic?
Roglic has looked imperious throughout the three-week race thanks to support from his powerful team, featuring some of the sport’s best riders, including Dumoulin, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss.
The 36km stage from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles was a challenging course that finished, unusually for time trial, with a category 1 climb. Roglic, 30, was considered a far better time triallist than Pogacar, and began the stage strongly.
But Roglic hit trouble at the changeover from super-fast specialist time-trial bikes to a more conventional road machine before the climb, struggling to clip into his pedals, wobbling when being pushed away and never seeming to find his typical rhythm.
Roglic, who claimed his first Grand Tour victory at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, looked desperate as he crossed the line, his helmet pushed upwards and slightly lop-sided, knowing already he had lost the race.
Desperation turned to confusion and dejection as he sat on the ground in his full yellow skinsuit, trying to comprehend how he had committed one of modern cycling’s biggest chokes.
And as Pogacar sat down for his post-race TV interview, Roglic interrupted it to embrace his countryman.
“I just didn’t push enough,” said Roglic. “It was like that. I was more and more without the power I needed but I gave it all until the end.
“We’ll see what happens next. I can be happy with the racing we showed here so let’s take positive things out of it.”
From a distant second, Pogacar takes it all
Roglic had been favourite to win the 107th edition of cycling’s greatest race, alongside defending champion Egan Bernal of Ineos Grenadiers.
However, Bernal abandoned the race before stage 17 following a disastrous climb up the Grand Colombier on stage 15, where he cracked and lost more than seven minutes to Roglic.
It was one of the biggest downturns in form for a defending champion in recent history, and put an end to Ineos’ record of winning every Tour since 2015, four of which were as Team Sky.
Ineos looked set to have something to celebrate as they tried to seal the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey through their second protected rider Richard Carapaz.
But despite 2019 Giro d’Italia winner Carapaz’s attempts to deliberately ride a slow first section before blasting up the mountain, Pogacar’s epic performance eclipsed him and he took the jersey.
It is the second of three jerseys Pogacar will claim at this year’s race – he will also pick up the young riders’ white jersey.
In total Pogacar picks up prize money of 500,000 euros (£458,270) for the yellow jersey, 25,000 euros (£22,900) for the King of the Mountains award, and a further 20,000 euros (£18,300) for being the best placed young rider.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Pogacar said. “They did such a big effort. We were dreaming of the yellow jersey from the start. Amazing.
“It was not just me today, we needed the whole team for the recon. I knew every corner and knew exactly where to accelerate. Congrats to all my team.
“I didn’t hear anything on the radio in the final five kilometres because the fans were too loud so I just went full gas.
“My dream was just to be on the Tour de France and now I’ve won it. It’s unbelievable.”
General classification after stage 20
1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 84hrs 26mins 33secs
2. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +59secs
3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) +3mins 30secs
4. Mikel Landa (Spa/Bahrain McLaren) +5mins 58secs
5. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +6mins 07secs
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col/Astana) +6mins 47secs
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +7mins 48secs
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +8mins 02secs
9. Adam Yates (GB/Mitchelton-Scott) +9mins 25secs
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +14mins 03secs
Stage 20 result
1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 55mins 55secs
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 21secs
3. Richie Porte (Aus/Trek-Segafredo) Same time
4. Wout van Aert (Bel/Jumbo Visma) +1min 31secs
5. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +1min 56secs
6. Remi Cavagna (Fra/Deceuninck-Quick-Step) +1min 59secs
7. Damiano Caruso (Ita/Bahrain McLaren) +2mins 29secs
8. David de la Cruz (Spa/UAE Team Emirates) +2mins 40secs
9. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +2mins 45secs
10. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Pro Cycling) +2mins 54secs
Navalny says he can walk and recognize people as he eyes “clear road” to recovery from poisoning
Navalny posted a picture of himself walking down a staircase on Saturday, writing that he is regaining his physical and mental capacity.
“Quite recently, I did not recognize people and did not understand how to talk,” Navalny wrote. “Every morning the doctor came to me and said: Alexey, I brought a board, let’s figure out which word we can write on it. This drove me to despair because although I understood in general what the doctor wanted, I did not understand where to get the words from.
“Now I’m a guy whose legs are shaking when he walks up the stairs, but this guy thinks: ‘Oh, this is a staircase! People get up on these. Perhaps we should look for an elevator.’ And before, I would have just stood there and stared at it blankly,” the post added.
In the post, Navalny thanked the doctors of the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where he is undergoing treatment. The German government has said the Kremlin critic was poisoned with a chemical agent from the Novichok group, a conclusion supported by two other labs in France and Sweden.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Friday questioned the water bottle as evidence and added that poisoning is one version of what happened to Navalny but it has not been confirmed as traces of poison were not found in Navalny’s blood by Russian labs.
Mary Ilyushina reported from Moscow, Rob Picheta wrote in London.
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