26 January 2011 Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured) affirmed yesterday on national television the right of the country's Muslims to have mosques constructed for them. "By refusing to build mosques in Georgia, we are refusing the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living on our territory of their right to be Georgian citizens," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the PIK television channel last night. Saakashvili stressed that this is not a religious issue, as a segment of the Georgian population is Muslim and they cannot be denied the right to observe their religious traditions. "It is easy to throw populist slogans around, but we have to have a responsible attitude toward our fellow citizens regardless of their religious and national identity," Saakashvili said. However, he added that there is nothing wrong with reaching an agreement with the Turkish side. "We offered to build several mosques in exchange for the rehabilitation of our churches in Turkey, and I think there is nothing wrong here," he said. The mosque issue was addressed as part of a three-hour live question-and-answer session with the Georgian president. Islam was introduced in Georgia in 645 AD during the reign of the Second Caliph of Islam, Umar, who established Muslim rule in what is today Georgia's capitol Tbilisi. Currently, Muslims constitute approximately 10% of the Georgian population.
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