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Thursday February 22, 2018 01:24 AM

Protests force South Korea to scrap plan for Muslim prayer room at Winter Olympics

Protests force South Korea to scrap plan for Muslim prayer room at Winter Olympics
The Korea Tourism Origanization previously had decided to set up a prayer room to increase the number of Muslim tourists and to promote a "Muslim-friendly Korea" during the OlympicsKorea Tourism Organization

The plan for two container-style prayer rooms has been halted after South Korea's anti-Muslim group drew over 56,000 signatures

The Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) will not arrange any mobile prayer room for Muslim tourists at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung due to strong opposition from anti-Muslim campaigners, according to the statements of the city’s tourism department’s chief given to Al Jazeera.

Earlier, the KTO had decided to set up a mobile prayer room to increase the number of Muslim tourists and to promote a “Muslim-friendly Korea” during the Olympics which started on Friday. The initiative was undertaken despite only 0.2% the South Korean population of 51 million being Muslims.

The plan for two container-style prayer rooms has been halted after South Korea’s anti-Muslim group drew over 56,000 signatures opposing the idea, reports The Korea Times.

“We had strong opposition from some religious groups who opposed the installation and threatened protests during the Winter Olympics,” the Gangneung city Government Tourism Division chief Kang Suk-ho told Al Jazeera. “We sat down with them for talks, but in the end, we had to cancel the plans.”

The website by the civic group titled “Crowd signature campaign against introducing Muslim prayer rooms for PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games,” stated nine reasons why the plan should not be put into action.

One of the clauses stated that using South Korean citizens’ taxes to support a specific religion, excluding other religious groups such as Buddhists and Catholics, is unfair.

Kang said he did not expect such an extreme backlash from the group, adding: “We thought it would be nice to offer a prayer room facility at the Gangneung station.”

The Gangwon Provincial Citizens’ Association for the Anti-Islam Campaign told The Korea Times it was deeply concerned about the country’s ignorance of Islamic movements affected not just the city but the whole country. One of the association’s executives said based on how Muslims have been influential in European countries, it could be the same in South Korea.

Muslim families visiting South Korea for Olympics warned that the decision of letting go off the initiation of prayer room would lead to greater danger in future.

“While it would have been great to have a praying facility at the Games, the bigger worry for us is how this can set a precedent going forward,” a Muslim spectator, who asked to be remained anonymous, told Al Jazeera.

“We can offer our prayers in some corner or back at our hotel; I just hope the opposition realizes what little it will achieve by not having a prayer room put up,” the visitor added.

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