27 April 2002 Saturday 13 Safar 1423

Aga Khan plans Islamic centre in London

LONDON, April 26: The Aga Khan outlined plans on Friday to build the English-speaking world's biggest Islamic academic centre in the historic heart of London.

"It's a gift to London, it would bring a real enrichment of the city's cultural life," his private affairs director Iain Cheyne told Reuters, confirming a 24 million pound ($35 million) offer to develop the prime site on London's river Thames.

Prince Karim Aga Khan, 66, heads a largely Third World-orientated network of charitable institutes and businesses. Now he wants to make his mark on London.

Under the proposal, the site - opposite the centuries-old Houses of Parliament and next to Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Church of England's religious head - would house various academic and cultural facilities built in line with local architecture. But it has brought fierce opposition from a neighboring London hospital which wants to expand on to the land but can only afford about half the Aga Khan's bid.

Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital, which owned the land until 1998 when it passed to the local academic King's College, said in a statement it was "implacably opposed to the sale of this site to an outside party".

The hospital, whose argument is likely to win sympathy from a British public eager to see its creaking public health services expand and improve, added it was talking with King's College "as to how the ownership and use of this site can best be secured for the public good."

OPEN TO PUBLIC, SCHOLARS: Cheyne, speaking from Aiglemont, France, where the Aga Khan lives, said he was disappointed with the medical opposition because one of the planned new Muslim centre's key roles would be to collaborate with the hospital.

"The basic tenet of Ismaili is charity," he said, stressing the centre would also be open to the public and scholars.

The British government said on Friday it would not get involved in the affair, which was purely a matter for land owner King's College.-Reuters