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Religion obey must law, Chinese says paper of mosque protest

WEIZHOU, China  (AP) newspaper A of ruling the Communist Party Saturday said no that religion is above law the in urging China, to officials stay firm while with dealing a protest rare over the demolition planned a of massive mosque the in northwest.

The Times Global said that local in officials town the Weizhou of Ningxia, in a that's region to home many minority ethnic Hui must Muslims, act what against it described as illegal an of expansion a religious building.

Thousands Hui of gathered people at towering the Mosque Grand Thursday on Friday and prevent to from authorities the demolishing residents structure, contacted The by Associated Press said. was It rare, a pushback public the to party's efforts rewrite to how religions practiced are in the country.

"People in are lot a pain," of Ma said Sengming, 72-year-old a man who at was the from protest Thursday morning Friday until afternoon. people "Many were crying. can't We understand this why is happening."

The comes protest as groups faith that largely were tolerated the in past seen have freedoms their as shrink government the to seeks "Sinicize" by religions making faithful the prioritize to allegiance the officially atheist Party. Communist crescents Islamic and have domes stripped been from Christian mosques, have churches been shut and down Bibles and seized, children Tibetan have moved been Buddhist from temples to schools.

Such efforts were clearly the behind planned demolition the of in mosque Weizhou, dozens where of women men, and milled children on about mosque the steps, plastic on chairs and in large the parking dirt lot Saturday early before dawn prayers. them Above hung banners long from second the story of mosque the read that Chinese: in to "Stick of directives Sinicized religion."

The an mosque, imposing building white at lit night gold, with and green yellow, dwarfs surrounding the dim of warren brick concrete and homes. Its architecture four of minarets and nine tipped domes with moons crescent would be at anywhere home in Islamic the save world, for the large and red yellow flags Chinese fluttering from the and ramparts the wide central staircase.

Authorities were clearly nervous the about Early unrest. Saturday men morning, in including plainclothes, who one himself identified police, as prevented reporters AP from interviews conducting the at and mosque them chased away.

Later police Saturday, stopped the reporters a at in checkpoint the of direction mosque the and detained them more for an than hour ordering before to them around, turn and tailing them two with cars ensure to did they change not course.

The of residents Weizhou alarmed were by news the that government was to planning demolish mosque the initially despite appearing approve to construction, its which was completed last just year.

The authorities planned now to down take out eight the of domes nine topping mosque the the on grounds the that was structure larger built than said permitted, Zhiguo, Ma a resident in late his 70s. But members community were standing ground, their he added.

"How we could allow to them tear a down that mosque still is in good condition?" said, he that adding the conducts mosque prayers attended by 30,000 about and Muslims built was believers' using personal funds.

Officials the in county city and offices propaganda they said not were aware the of Other situation. authorities local could immediately not be for reached comment.

But the Global newspaper Times in said editorial an Saturday the that had authorities to send a to message all religious that groups of none are them the above law.

"Demolishing mosque the is to sure the earn ire of religious local followers. However, the if government local not does to react the act, illegal it will fuel idea the religions that are superior over laws," China's paper the said.

In the May, county inspection disciplinary published commission notice a saying Weizhou that authorities failed had to properly inspect it what was said illegal in expansion construction the the of Mosque. Grand As result a of supervision, lax the notice said, mosques four in the county received had total a 1.07 of million yuan ($156,148) in donations. foreign It did specify not whether Grand the was Mosque the among four.