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Turkey turns iconic Hagia Sophia museum into mosque

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree on Friday ordering Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum to be handed over to the country’s religious authority and reopened as a mosque.

Erdogan shared the decree on Twitter with the caption “congratulations’’.

It was not immediately clear when the compound, originally built in the 6th century, would be open to Muslim worshippers.

It was founded as a church, later converted into a mosque, and then operated as a secular museum that is a magnet for tourists.

The decree was signed by Erdogan just over an hour after Turkey’s top administrative court overturned an earlier 1934 decree that made the Hagia Sophia a museum.

In justifying its ruling, the court said the Hagia Sophia is actually registered as a mosque and the property of a foundation established by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, who in 1453 captured Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, and turned the already 900-year-old Byzantine church into a mosque.

The court was reviewing a 2016 petition by a little-known association, which argued the Hagia Sophia was the property of Sultan Mehmed II.

It had also argued a signature by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, on the 1934 cabinet decision was forged and thus invalid.

“The Council of State has corrected a wrong decision made 86 years ago,’’ the petitioning association’s lawyer, Selami Karaman, told dpa by phone.

The verdict comes as a result of long-standing calls by Turkish Islamic hard-liners to turn the UNESCO heritage site back into a mosque.

The United States, Russia and Greece, along with UNESCO, expressed concern ahead of the ruling.

“The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,’’ Russian Orthodox Church spokesman, Vladimir Legoida, spoke of Friday’s court ruling, in comments carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Erdogan earlier this month rejected international criticism as an “attack” on Turkey’s sovereignty.

Ahead of the decision on Friday, the Police barricaded the area around the Hagia Sophia.

A small group of people chanted Islamic and nationalist slogans, raising their index fingers and shouting “God is Great” behind a police barricade, footage from state news agency Anadolu showed.

The decision could undermine the universal value of the site and trigger a heritage review, UNESCO warned ahead of the court decision.

A cultural landmark for both Christians and Muslims, the Hagia Sophia attracted 3.7 million visitors in 2019, according to Istanbul governor’s office.

The mosque conversion “will disappoint millions of Christians around the world’’, Istanbul-based Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, said in a statement earlier this month.

Karaman said the Hagia Sophia may not be able to be opened for Muslim worship immediately due to logistical issues including covering Christian symbols prohibited in mosques.

Pro-government media recently suggested stretching a curtain over the symbols, among them a well-known mosaic face of an angel uncovered in 2009.

Long a reminder of Turkey’s secular constitution to many with its neutral position, Hagia Sophia hosted an Islamic ceremony accompanied by a call to prayer back in 2016, the first such event in 84 years.

“Hagia Sophia Mosque” hashtag was a trending topic on Turkish Twitter on Friday, with members of the Cabinet also congratulating the conversion.

Lawmakers applauded as they stood up while the parliament speaker read out loud Erdogan’’s order, state broadcaster TRT footage showed.

Leader of main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, earlier this month accused Erdogan of “using as a political tool” the Hagia Sophia issue.

A recent poll by Turkey’s Metropoll found that 44 percent of Turks believe the government brought Hagia Sophia on the agenda to divert attention from economic troubles.

Turkish media have reported that Islamic prayers could be held there on July 15, the fourth anniversary of a failed coup by a faction in the military.

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Jim Hackett resigns as Ford CEO

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Ford announced Tuesday that Jim Hackett would resign as chief executive and be replaced by longtime auto executive Jim Farley as the car giant pushes further into digital and electric investment.

Hackett, 65, will hand over the job to Farley, 58, on October 1, but stay on as a special advisor through March 2021. Farley joined Ford in 2007 after a long tenure at Toyota and currently serves as chief operating officer.

Hackett joined Ford in 2017 from furniture company Steelcase and was known for his skills in turning around struggling organisations.

Hackett has overseen some major shifts at the 117-year-old Detroit auto staple, including phasing out most sedan models and launching the Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric sport utility vehicle built on one of the auto industry’s most iconic brands.

Ford Chairman Bill Ford credited Hackett with “slaying the sacred cows” during his run and characterized Farley as a true car expert, noting he enjoys racing vintage cars as a hobby.

“Jim Farley matches an innate feel for cars and customers with great instincts for the future and the new technologies that are changing our industry,” Ford said.

“Jim’s passion for great vehicles and his intense drive for results are well known, and I have also seen him develop into a transformational leader with the determination and foresight to help Ford thrive into the future.”

Shares of Ford jumped 3.0 percent to $6.89.

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Early voting in Belarusian presidential election begins

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Polling stations for casting ballots in the Belarusian presidential election have opened in most regions of the country for citizens unable to vote during the national election day on Aug. 9, according to a Sputnik correspondent.

Early voting will take place from Aug. 4 to Aug. 8.

Polling stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (from 07:00 to 11:00 GMT) and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The voting is taking place in the presence of at least two members of the precinct election commission at the commission’s office.

According to the Belarusian Central Election Commission, more than 6.8 million citizens will be able to vote in the current presidential election, including 5,319 people currently residing abroad.

A total of 5,767 polling places have been set up for the vote, including 44 in Belarusian embassies and consulates in 36 foreign countries.

However, early voting is not being held in sanatoriums, preventoriums, hospitals, and other health organisations providing medical care in stationary conditions.

The presidential election in Belarus is scheduled for Aug. 9.

Five people are registered as candidates, including the current head of state, Alexander Lukashenko.
The campaigning started on July 14 and will last until Aug. 8. (Sputnik/signaturetv.org

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Chileans say goodbye to plastic bags in shops for good

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Chile has become the first Latin American country to ban the distribution of plastic bags across all shops.

Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt said the final piece of legislation banning the bags would be implemented, La Tercera newspaper reported on Monday, citing the minister.

After the initial laws on plastic bags came into force in August 2018, the country’s major supermarket chains had six months to stop distributing them.

Smaller shops were given two years.

Those who still supply the bags can be fined up to the equivalent of about 350 dollars.

According to the Ministry of the Environment, this law has prevented the use of about five billion plastic bags since 2018.

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