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Saudi-sponsored interreligious center to open in Austria, UN secretary-general attends

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries are attending the inauguration of a Saudi-sponsored center for inter-religious dialogue that opens later Monday.

The project is co-sponsored by Austria and Spain. Its board will consist of three Christians, three Muslims, a Jew, a Buddhist and a Hindu.

The center has ignited debate. Backers hope it will promote increased tolerance in Saudi Arabia, a kingdom that now prohibits any religion other than Islam.

Detractors, including Austria's Green party and moderate Muslim groups, say Saudi Arabia — home to the conservative brand of Wahhabi Islam — is the last country that should be hosting initiatives on religious coexistence. They say the center could be used to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Europe.

Others scheduled to attend include the Spanish and Saudi foreign ministers.