December 13, 2010 / 8:50 PM / in 7 years

Algeria hails religious freedom at restored church

* Notre Dame d‘Afrique church given 5-mln-euro facelift

* Church built by French settlers in mainly Muslim Algeria

* Govt minister: ‘religious freedom in Algeria a reality’

ALGIERS, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A Catholic church that has been a landmark in Algeria’s capital for over a century officially re-opened on Monday after restoration work, providing a symbol of religious tolerance in the mainly Muslim country.

Algeria is emerging from a nearly two-decade-long Islamist insurgency, but the Catholic community has maintained a presence, even though several Christian clergymen have been among hundreds of thousands killed in the violence.

The Notre Dame d‘Afrique church was built by French settlers in the late nineteenth century and since 2006 has been undergoing a 5-million-euro restoration paid for by Algiers city government, the European Union and donors in Algeria and France.

“Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality,” Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters after a ceremony to mark the completion of repair work.

“Everybody has the right to practice their religion provided that the law is fully respected,” he said.

The church stands on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and its sandstone dome can be seen from many parts of the Algerian capital.

An inscription running around the inside of the dome reads: “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us, and for the Muslims.”

The work on the building included restoring the leaded windows and repairing the blue-and-white ceramic frieze that runs in a strip around the outside of the building.

Some human rights groups have questioned the commitment of the government in Algeria, a French colony until independence in 1962, to religious tolerance.

Local media reported on Monday that a court gave suspended prison sentences to four Algerian Protestants after it found them guilty of opening a non-Muslim place of worship without government permission.

Officials have said the four were prosecuted because they failed to respect the law, not because of their faith. (Reporting by Abdelaziz Boumzar and Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Christian Lowe)

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