Board backs Ground Zero mosque plan

A New York City community board voted today for a plan to build a mosque and cultural centre near Ground Zero.

The vote, 29-1 in favour with 10 abstentions, came after hours of contentious public comment.

The board vote, while not necessary for the building's owners to move forward with the project, was seen as key to obtaining residents' support.

Last night a top Manhattan politician backed the plans, which have angered some conservative activists and families of the victims of the September 11 2001 terror attacks.

But standing in front of the ragged building at the centre of the proposal, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, who has been the target of disparaging remarks by Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams for supporting the plans, defended his position and condemned offensive speech directed at him or Muslims.

"What I want people to do is to take a look at the totality of what they are proposing," Mr Stringer said. "What we're rejecting here is outright bigotry and hatred."

Mr Stringer made his remarks outside the Park Place building, a former department store that was damaged by debris in the September 11 attacks.

New York police commissioner Raymond Kelly said there were no security concerns about building a mosque in the area.

Mr Stringer called the inclusion of a mosque in the groups' plans "a good thing".

The American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, the organisations sponsoring the project, say they are trying to meet a growing need for prayer space in Lower Manhattan as well as provide a venue for the dissemination of mainstream Islam, to counter extremism.

But the plan, which would include areas for inter-faith activities and conferences and an arts centre, has attracted opposition.

Some victims' families say they are angry that it would be built so close to where their relatives died.

Mr Stringer said he understood the sensitivities of the families.

"I don't think anybody wants to do anything to disrespect those families. They made the ultimate sacrifice," he said.

"At the same time, we have to balance diversity and look for opportunities to bring different groups together."

The project sponsors said they bought the building last year and planned to break ground later this year. It could take up to three years to build the Cordoba House. A Friday prayer service has been held at the building since September 2009.