Mosque project moving again

Stalled plans for the creation of an official mosque in Athens, the only capital of the 15 original European Union member countries without a state-approved place of worship for Muslim citizens, are set to move forward within the week. Over the next few days, the Athens War Museum is expected to hand over to the Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation a 1.6-hectare plot of land in Votanikos, west of downtown Athens, where the mosque is to be built. Meanwhile the Athens News Agency revealed that authorities are to announce an international competition to find an architect for the project early next year. According to sources, several architects, including internationally renowned Iraqi-born Briton Zaha Hadid, have expressed interest in undertaking the project. According to a law introduced under the previous conservative government, when Marietta Giannakou was education and religious affairs minister, the cost of the project would be around 15 million euros. However, sources say the original budget will be revised by the government in view of its current financial constraints. The project, which foresees the participation of nine different ministries and state bodies, is to be overseen and coordinated by Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos. The news of imminent movement on the stalled mosque project came a day after thousands of Athenian Muslims congregated in city squares for mass prayers marking the festival of Eid al-Adha. In unprecedented scenes for the capital, about 3,000 worshippers gathered outside the entrance to Athens University. The prayers ended peacefully despite small-scale clashes between nationalist protesters and police on the fringes of the activities. The protests occurred near Attiki Square where dozens of residents objecting to the Muslims’ public prayers shouted obscenities and hurled eggs at worshippers. The crowd is believed to have included members of extreme right-wing group Chrysi Avgi, which gained a seat on the municipal council in recent local elections.