Backdropped by Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum, demonstrators protest against the mosque attacks in New Zealand, in Istanbul, Saturday, March 16, 2019. Thousands of demonstrators have protested the New Zealand mosque shootings outside Istanbul's Hagia Sophia - a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum. The demonstrators - mostly members of Islamic-leaning civil society groups - called for the symbolic edifice to be reconverted into a mosque.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Erdogan: Istanbul's Hagia Sophia could be turned into mosque

March 25, 2019 - 8:26 am

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Istanbul's Hagia Sophia — a Byzantine-era cathedral that was turned into a mosque and now serves as a museum — could be reconverted into a mosque.

Erdogan spoke during a television interview Sunday ahead of Turkey's March 31 local elections.

The former Byzantine cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Turkey's secular founder turned the structure into a museum in 1935 that attracts millions of tourists each year.

There have been increasing calls for the government to convert the symbolic structure back into a mosque, especially following reports that the gunman who killed Muslim worshippers in New Zealand left a manifesto saying the Hagia Sophia would be "free of minarets."

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