NEWS

Pallini mosque plans finalized

The government said yesterday that it was finalizing plans for the construction of Athens’s first official mosque on the outskirts of the capital, despite protests by the powerful Church of Greece, local residents and Muslims themselves. The mosque, part of a cultural center which has been in the planning stages for many years, is to be funded by the Saudi Arabian government. Greece had pledged to construct a mosque before the Olympic Games, as there is no official place of worship for Muslims in the capital. This has forced the thousands of Muslims here to congregate in unofficial mosques, such as downtown apartments. The plan to build the mosque at Pallini has been criticized by the Church of Greece, which says that the fact that it is near the airport will give visitors the impression that they have arrived in an Islamic state. Pallini residents, who are mostly Christian, fear that the mosque will change the character of their town. Muslims lament the fact that they will have to travel a long way from the center, where most of them live, in order to worship. «Today we announce that the necessary, complicated legal and bureaucratic procedures that were needed are in their final stage,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. «There is a clear political will, so that these final adjustments can be completed in the immediate future, so that the Islamic Cultural Center can begin to function according to what its charter foresees,» he added. Koumoutsakos said that the organization that will manage the construction and operation of the center will be a public benefit organization under the control and supervision of the Greek State. «The funding of the project has been undertaken by the Saudi Arabian government,» he added.