NEWS

Athens mosque gets green light

Parliament?s approval on Wednesday of a law regulating illegal buildings paved the way for the construction of the Greek capital?s first modern mosque in the Athenian neighborhood of Votanikos.

The law on illegal constructions, which also includes a clause giving the go-ahead for a mosque, was voted through with 198 votes out of 300 in favor from the center, right and left, against 16 objections from MPs from the nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). The prospect of a mosque in Athens is vehemently opposed by right-wing and nationalist parties and groups, the latter of which have launched numerous attacks against groups of Muslims in recent months, especially in central Athens, where the vast majority lives.

The passing of the law satisfies a longstanding demand for an official place of worship from the country?s growing Muslim population, whose needs to date have been accommodated by makeshift mosques in apartments or disused warehouses. It also puts Athens -- the only capital from among the original 15 member states of the European Union not to have a mosque -- in line with its European peers.

The mosque, which will not feature minarets, is to be housed on a plot of land formerly belonging to the navy in Votanikos, west of central Athens, and the project is to be funded by the state.

As far as illegal constructions are concerned, details of the fifth version of the bill drafted by the Environment Ministry were still being debated in Parliament late last night even though it was voted through with overwhelming support.

The main premise of the law is that owners of illegal constructions will be able to pay a fine that will protect their property from demolition for a period of 30 years. Changes made in the final version of the law include a significant reduction in the fine for properties built prior to 1983, an extension of the number of installments in which owners have to pay the fine from 24 to 30 months, and a March 31, 2012 deadline for the submission of static studies of properties where this is required.

The application process for ?legalizing? illegal constructions will begin on October 1, according to the ministry.

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