Athens Mayoral Foes Mosque Clash

ATHENS – The race to unseat Athens Mayor George Kaminis has heated up over whether the government should pay to build a state-sponsored mosque that he supports.

Kaminis hasn’t yet stepped fully into the fray as he tries to keep his office, but his rivals are taking pot shots at each other.

Gavriil Sakellaridis, the candidate from the major opposition Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party accused his New Democracy foe Aris Spiliotopoulos of running on an ultra-nationalist agenda similar to the extremists Golden Dawn who oppose the mosque.

“[Aris] Spiliotopoulos is running on a LAOS 2012 platform,” Sakellaridis said in reference to the small nationalist party led by Giorgos Karatzaferis which used to be the most right-wing in Greek Parliament before the rise of Golden Dawn.

That came as Spiliotopoulos repeated his call for a city-wide referendum on the construction of a mosque in Athens.

In an interview with Skai TV, Spiliotopoulos, a former education and tourism minister, slammed plans to build a Muslim place of worship at the heart of Athens saying that the capital does not need “another pole for illegal immigration.”

He served Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who has pushed a position of religious tolerance but was the Premier’s hand-picked choice as the New Democracy’s candidate over a former mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, who is running anyway against his own party.

After numerous delays, the government has agreed to build a mosque at the site of a former naval base in Votanikos, near central Athens.

The contract for the mosque’s construction was last year awarded to a consortium comprising the firms J&P Avax, Terna, Aktor and Intrakat. Construction was expected to begin this year.

Sakellaridis said that Spiliotopoulos was acting against his own party too since the government he serves has already given the go-ahead for the mosque he opposes. Samaras though in 2012 campaigned on a pledge to rid Greece of illegal immigrants, many of them Muslims.

Sakellaridis denied the mosque would be a lure for illegal immigrants and said a state-sponsored and funded mosque would reduce the number of makeshift mosques in garages, basements and other spaces across the city.

“We are not the only ones saying this, the Archbishop himself has spoken of people’s need to practice their religious duties,” Sakellaridis said.