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Row overshadows German government's Islam conference
BERLIN (Reuters) - The absence of two big Islamic groups from government-led talks to boost the integration of Germany's 4 million Muslims overshadowed a meeting that agreed to tackle issues such as imam training, extremism and veils.
A row over the agenda and guest lists prompted Germany's Central Council of Muslims to boycott the talks, with its head, Ayyub Axel Koehler, denouncing the conference as being "decreed by the government" and saying Muslims had been ignored.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had already banned another group, Islamrat, due to its links with an association that is being investigated by government security authorities.
"These talks have been ill-fated under de Maiziere," Greens leader Cem Oezdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants who is the first person from an ethnic minority elected to run a German party, was quoted as saying.
Germany is home to western Europe's second-biggest Islamic population after France. The single biggest minority is Turkish.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, driven partly by fears of Muslim radicalisation, put integration on her political agenda four years ago and set up a formal dialogue process.
However, many Muslims complain the conferences have been little more than a talking shop. Monday's meeting was designed to turn some of the dialogue into practice, said de Maiziere.
The conference, comprising some Turkish groups, individual Muslim scholars and government officials, agreed on a working programme to address issues affecting minority communities and Muslims in Germany, said de Maiziere.
"The working programme encompasses central questions related to the cooperation of minorities and Muslims in Germany," said de Maiziere, a member of Merkel's predominantly Catholic conservatives. "The aim is to come up with concrete tasks linked to the subjects on the discussion list," he added.
The conference would draw up plans on how best to train imams and to teach the Islamic faith in schools. It would also support Muslim communities secure rights to put them on a more equal footing with other religious bodies, such as churches.
Another subject to be tackled was equal rights for women which encompasses forced marriage and the wearing of headscarves, a sensitive issue in Europe.
Belgium's parliament has voted in favour of a ban on full face veils and France is expected to present a draft law soon to outlaw them. De Maiziere, however, has rejected calls for a ban in Germany.
In contrast to the situation in Britain or France where simmering racial tensions sometimes explode into violence, German Muslims live relatively peacefully alongside mainstream society but a lack of integration poses a problem.
(Editing by Reed Stevenson)
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