ATHENS: Greek authorities will speed up plans to build a new mosque in Athens to satisfy a long-standing demand by Muslim residents that has sparked tension in recent months.
Top-selling Ta Nea daily said the government is expected to fund the temporary mosque to be erected within six months in a disused navy base in Elaionas, an industrial district near the city centre. A larger place of worship with enough space for 500 people is to be built in the same area by 2012, Ta Nea said.
Thousands of Muslims from Arab nations, Africa and the Indian subcontinent live and work in Athens without official prayer sites or a cemetery, despite years of promises by successive Greek governments. Muslim faithful have crafted mosques out of rented flats and disused warehouses which are regularly targeted in racist attacks. Earlier this month, Muslims holding an open-air prayer near the city centre to celebrate Eid al-Adha were harassed by local residents who threw eggs at them and blared loud music from windows.
Members of a far-right group also threatened to physically remove the Muslims from the square but were held back by riot police. Anger towards migrants and attacks have escalated on the streets of Athens in recent months as the debt-hit country battles a growing recession that has brought thousands of job layoffs.
A staunchly Orthodox state with bitter memories of nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, Greece currently offers sanctioned Muslim religious sites only near its north eastern border with Turkey where a Muslim minority of Turkish origin lives.