NEWS

Plan for Athens mosque stands

The construction of Athens’s first contemporary mosque will go ahead, Deputy Defense Minister Panos Beglitis insisted yesterday, but the state will retain the rights to the land on which it will be built. Beglitis was responding in Parliament to a question by Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) MP Adonis Georgiadis, who suggested that Greece should not be investing public money in such a project in the current climate. The nationalist politician cited a speech last weekend by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in which she claimed that multiculturalism had failed in her country. Georgiadis said that the concession of land in Votanikos, near central Athens, for the construction of the mosque would have implications «with a clear danger for security.» Beglitis accused the deputy of having a «mistaken approach that aims to create an extreme, xenophobic climate» ahead of the November 7 local elections. He said the government had no plans to deviate from the law passed by the previous New Democracy administration. The conservative government had approved plans in 2006 for the mosque to be built on a large plot of land owned by the Greek navy, in the same area that Athens soccer team Panathinaikos is due to construct its new home ground. The project was expected to cost about 15 million euros and to be completed by 2009. However, as yet, little progress has been made on building the place of worship. Beglitis insisted the government would have control over the mosque. Under the terms of the New Democracy law, the Athens mosque would be run by a nonprofit organization staffed by Greek state officials and members of the capital’s Muslim communities. The head imam of the new mosque would be appointed by a government-backed committee and be paid by the ministry. At present, the only mosques in Greece are in the northeastern region of Thrace, home to some 100,000 Muslims. Beglitis did not indicate when the government estimates the mosque will be completed.