Police on alert ahead of Ramadan prayers

As Muslims in Athens prepared to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, on Sunday, authorities were on the alert to prevent scuffling between immigrants and extremist groups.

As in 2011, the capital?s Muslims will celebrate on the grounds of the Olympic Stadium of Athens (OAKA) and at the Peace and Friendship Stadium (SEF) in the southern suburb of Neo Faliro. Muslims are also expected to gather at around 100 makeshift mosques across the capital.

The end of fasting celebrations, also known as Eid-ul-Fitr, this year take place following a string of violent attacks against immigrants.

?The state has given these people the right to practice their religious habits, proving that we are a state that respects religious freedom,? a high-ranking police official that did not wish to identify himself told Kathimerini.

?We will prevent tension… whether it is caused by foreigners or by groups of Greeks who will try to create problems,? he said.

Officials at the Education Ministry, which also oversees religious matters, have in previous months reportedly held more than 100 meetings with migrant representatives to prepare for Sunday?s event. The aim, officials told Kathimerini, is to avert Muslims from praying in public spaces — as controversially happened in 2010 — and prevent possible footage of prayers marred by clashes being broadcast abroad.

?We must safeguard our good relations with Muslim countries. We must not give the impression that Greece?s effort to deal with the acute immigration problem is in any way related to religion,? a ministry official told Kathimerini in reference to the government?s ongoing Xenios Zeus crackdown on illegal immigration.

An estimated 500,000 Muslims live in Greece, with about half of them in Athens.

A 19-year-old Iraqi died last weekend after being stabbed by five unknown persons riding motorcycles.

Prompted by the attack, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and 19 local NGOs called on the authorities to address the escalation of racist attacks.

?The fact that the perpetrators of such attacks operate almost undisturbed, in a systematic and organized manner and in teams often led by extremist elements, is an issue of serious concern,? said a joint statement.

?The competent authorities have not taken any particular measures to prevent and address such acts,? it said.