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Mepa finally halts use of 'illegal mosque'

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has taken action to stop the use of an "illegal mosque" in Tower Road, Sliema.

This action followed two news items on the matter that appeared in The Times over the past weeks.

A group of Muslims who used to pray in the mosque yesterday gathered on Tower Road where they held prayers on the pavement (picture) instead of using the premises as usual.

The mosque is situated on the ground floor of a block of apartments near the Preluna Hotel and it used to display prominent signs such as "There is no God save Allah. Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah". All indications, including the signs, which portrayed the image of a mosque, have now been removed.

Sources close to Mepa said there was never an application to change the use of the premises. They said the authority took action so that an enforcement notice it had issued would be observed. Basically the enforcement notice was against a congregation of people meeting in a place which did not have the required permit and also against the signs, which were illegal. The sources stressed that Mepa's actions had nothing to do with religion.

Residents said they had seen activity, including people praying in the mosque, very recently. The mosque continued to operate despite being declared illegal by Mepa and by the Court of Appeal and despite the reports appearing on The Times.

The residents say they have nothing against any religion - so long as it is practised in venues allowed by law. They argue that concrete action should have been taken against the occupiers following the rulings.

Action against the owner and occupier of the "mosque" was started by Mepa two years ago, based on an unauthorised development consisting of a sign/advert on the façade and on having materially changed the use of the premises into one of public worship, religious teaching or social activities of a religious body.

An appeal against enforcement was lodged by the occupiers but it was dismissed by the Planning Appeals Board. The case then went to the Court of Appeal presided over by Mr Justice Ray Pace. A few months ago, the court turned down the appeal and enforcement officers have on various occasions tried to convince the occupiers to abide by the court order and stop using the premises illegally.

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