Ukrainian city approves construction of first mosque

Kiev, Ukraine - A Ukrainian city on Tuesday gave a go ahead for the construction of its first mosque, in a major victory for the region's Muslims.

The city council of the Black Sea port Sevastopol approved the zoning of a central district land plot for the building project, with 71 of 72 council members voting in favour.

Once complete, the mosque would become the first-ever Islamic house of worship in a city dominated by ethnic Slavs following the Orthodox Christian faith.

Plans for the construction of a mosque in Sevastopol has been a bone of contention in the city since 2004 when ethnic Tartars applied for a building permit. Slavs objected on grounds that the city was traditionally Orthodox and Slavic, and over fears of ethnic conflict.

The proposed construction site for the Sevastopol mosque saw repeated anti-government demonstrations by Tartars beginning in 2008.

Between 13 and 20 per cent of the 1.4 million population of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula are ethnic Tartars, most of whom follow Sunni Islam.

"We have been working towards this for years ... it is about time," said Vasyl Dzhatry, chairman of the Crimean council of ministers. "All ethnicities have a right to their culture and beliefs."

In recent years, the conflict in Crimea between Tartars and Slavs has included the fire-bombing of a mosque, mass brawls, police raids on Tartar homes and businesses, and the murder of a Tartar journalist investigating allegedly corrupt land sales.

Russians and Ukrainians largely have control of Crimea's government and economy. Tartars, with rare exceptions, live on poor land with access to few services.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin forcibly exiled Crimea's ethnic Tartars in 1944. Most were unable to return until the early 1990s, only to find ethnic Slavs holding title to the region's most valuable lands and businesses.