Protest mars opening of first mosque in east Germany

Berlin, Germany - About 200 people chanting anti-Muslim slogans demonstrated on Thursday at the opening of the first mosque in the formerly communist eastern part of Germany.

Attacks on the site and protests by residents and the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) have dogged the mosque's construction.

The demonstrators, many of them older people, held banners reading "Stop the Islamisation of Europe" and "Stop the Abuse of Religious Freedom."

A few black-clad young men with shaved heads, a trademark right-wing style, joined the protest but the NPD called off a march.

The protest highlighted difficulties in integrating Germany's 3.2 million Muslims into mainstream society, especially in the former communist east where few have settled.

Supporters say the mosque will foster better ties.

"The mosque will be a hub of social activity, not just for praying," said Ijaz Ahmad, spokeswoman for the Ahmadiyya mosque.

"It will play a role in boosting integration and promoting dialogue with politicians and other religious groups."

The local citizens' group said Ahmadiyya is a sect with racist and discriminatory views.

"We have a big problem with sects that put religion above everything else, allow the beating of women and deny equal rights," the group said on its website.

"Our opposition is directed at this sect's ideas and in particular its ideas about women," it said.

The Ahmadiyya movement, whose slogan is "Love for all, hatred for no one," was founded in India in the 19th century. It defines itself as Muslim but is not recognized by some mainstream Muslim groups because of different beliefs.

Germany's roughly 30,000 Ahmadiyya members aim to have about 100 mosques in the country eventually.

Germany is home to about 2,500 mosque communities and has 2,250 active imams. Most of its Muslims are of Turkish origin.