The first part of Park51, the controversial Lower Manhattan Islamic community centre, is opening on Wednesday with an art exhibition featuring photographs of children.

Just a few blocks away from the site where the Twin Towers once stood, the exhibition marks Park51’s first big public event.

It comprises portraits of children from 169 countries who now live in New York and its opening coincides with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace.

Katerina Lucas, Park51’s chief of staff, said: ‘It is a huge step forward. I hope it shows we are about inclusion, not exclusion.’

When plans to build a high-rise Islamic institution were announced last year, critics angrily pointed out that it was insensitive to have the mosque so close to the site attacked by Islamic extremists.

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