BEIJING (AP) - Authorities in northwestern China were poised to begin demolition of a mosque Friday despite protests by hundreds of members of the country's Muslim Hui ethnic minority determined to preserve the newly built structure.
A crowd gathered Thursday outside the towering Grand Mosque in the town of Weizhou in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region and was being watched closely by police, Hong Kong's South China Morning post said. No clashes were reported.
It wasn't immediately clear if the plan to begin the demolition Friday would proceed according to schedule. The SCMP said an alternative plan had been floated to remove eight of the nine domes on the massive structure, which was completed last year but never obtained proper construction and operating permits.
The move comes as China's officially atheist ruling Communist Party is cracking down on religious expression and attacking what it calls radical ideas among the country's more than 20 million Muslims. Authorities have called for the "sinicization" of religion in China, which appears to include the removal of religious symbols and stricter adherence to Communist Party directives.
Further west in the region of Xinjiang, hundreds of thousands of members of the Uighur and Kazakh Muslim minorities have been detained for months in re-education camps where they are reportedly forced to denounce Islam and traditional culture.
Unlike those ethnic groups, however, the Hui are culturally much closer to China's Han majority, similar in appearance and speaking a variation of the mainstream Mandarin language.
Until recent years, they had generally been left alone by the authorities, even while the security crackdown in Xinjiang grew ever more oppressive following violent attacks by radical Muslim separatists.
Along with the sinicization campaign, however, Hui religious schools and Arabic classes have been shut down and Muslim outreach to young people suppressed, according to reports.