BANJA LUKA, Bosnia - Thousands flocked to the capital of Bosnia's Serb statelet on Saturday for the reopening of a historic mosque destroyed during wartime, a ceremony seen as encouraging religious tolerance among deeply divided communities.
Twenty years after the devastating war between its Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, Bosnia remains split along ethnic lines, with rival groups blocking reconciliation and reform needed to join the European Union.
The return of Muslim believers to the rebuilt Ferhat-Pasha mosque in the largely Serb city of Banja Luka, capital of Bosnia's autonomous Serb Republic, offers hope for change to many.
But tight security showed the ceremony, to be attended by top Bosnian officials and Turkey's outgoing Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, was seen as a high-risk event. Turkey has contributed to the cost of rebuilding.
About 1,000 police officers patrolled the streets as buses arrived with Muslims from across the country. Traffic was barred from the city centre and alcohol banned.
The 16th-century mosque, under UNESCO protection as an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture, was blown up 23 years ago. A parking lot was built where it had stood.
Many believe its destruction was ordered by Bosnian Serbs aiming to erase any traces of Muslim heritage in the once multi-ethnic city.
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