Cyprus mosque defaced on bicentennial of Greek uprising from Ottoman rule

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NICOSIA (Reuters) - Vandals defaced the facade of a mosque in ethnically split Cyprus on Thursday, daubing it with Greek flags and slogans and drawing a harsh condemnation from authorities.

The mosque, located west of the city of Limassol close to Cyprus's southern coast, was spray-painted blue with stencils of the Greek flag on its stone exterior. Christian crucifixes, also in blue, were painted on its two wooden doors.

Thursday marked the bicentennial of an 1821 Greek uprising which ended Ottoman rule in Greece. Cyprus, which was also part of the Ottoman Empire, became a British protectorate in 1878, later became a colony and then gained independence in 1960.

Cypriot authorities condemned the incident, calling it "an unacceptable and senseless act of so-called patriotism which desecrated places of religious worship."

The Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, an interfaith religious group, called it "shameful."

Cyprus was split between its Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot population after a Turkish invasion in 1974 prompted by a brief Greek inspired coup. Countless mediation attempts have failed to heal the divide, with the United Nations poised to launch a new effort in Geneva in April.

"Malicious acts such as these do not contribute in any way to the creation of the right climate to solve the Cyprus issue and reunify our country," Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos said in a written statement.

"Idiots of the day" wrote one user on Twitter under a picture of the mosque.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; editing by Richard Pullin)