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Construction begins on controversial minaret

After a series of legal battles and public complaints, work has begun erecting Switzerland's fourth minaret at a Turkish cultural centre.

The white spire with gold trim and a blue tip will be located in an industrial district in Wangen, western Switzerland. Cantonal authorities last year extended the structure's building permit, which was due to expire this spring.

Communal authorities, however, claimed the permit actually expired in 2007, and some 3,500 people signed a petition against allowing the minaret to be built. Switzerland's highest court dismissed a case to stop its construction.

Building new minarets in Switzerland first sparked public debate two years ago, when rightwing groups began working on a ban. One Swiss People's Party parliamentarian said the spires typically found at mosques are not Islamic symbols so much as a claim to political dominance.

Switzerland's other political parties and the government oppose a ban on the grounds that it would be unconstitutional, racist and violate international human rights.

With more than 310,000 Muslims living in Switzerland, Islam is the country's largest non-Christian religion. Minarets already feature on the skylines of Geneva, Zurich and Winterthur. An application for another spire has been filed in Langenthal, canton Bern.

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