MONTREAL (Reuters) - A small Quebec town has blocked plans for the region's first Muslim cemetery, rejecting a proposal by a Quebec City mosque that was targeted in a January shooting that killed six people.
Residents of Saint-Apollinaire, about 35 km (20 miles) southwest of Quebec City, voted on Sunday against the project 19 to 16. Only 49 people living close to the proposed cemetery were eligible to vote.
A spokesman for the mosque, the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec, said on Monday that the group would seek to negotiate with the city to find a way to open the cemetery, reserving legal action as a last resort.
Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet said by telephone that residents had opposed it because they wanted a multi-faith cemetery instead, reflecting ongoing debate in the province over integration of immigrants.
Mosque member Mohamed Kesri said he believed the cemetery was blocked because of lingering antipathy toward Muslims.
"It's the word Muslim," he said in a phone interview.
Right-wing extremist groups and some local French-speaking media in recent years have targeted Quebec's Muslims, many of whom are immigrants from North Africa, as part of a broader social debate on the accommodation of religious and cultural minorities in the province.
The province last year unveiled draft legislation to ban face-coverings in the public sector in a move criticized as marginalizing Muslim women and potentially inflaming anti-immigrant tensions.
But Kesri said he was surprised by the voting results as the hostility toward Muslims had seemed to moderate after the deadly January attack, amid an outpouring of support for the mosque.
Alexandre Bissonnette of Quebec City is accused of six counts of premeditated murder and five charges of attempted murder in the mosque attack.
Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; editing by Jim Finkle