ATHENS – Residents of a neighborhood where the Greek government is building and paying for the country’s first official mosque said their access to a church will be cut off and they’ve asked the state’s highest administrative court to stop its construction.
The Council of State heard arguments Nov. 29 from a group of 153 residents and a local association in the Votanikos area where the mosque is being built over fierce protests from critics and warnings of violence from the extreme-right Golden Dawn, whose lawmakers and dozens of members have been on trial for more than two years on charges of running a criminal gang, which they deny.
The residents argues that the police measures around the site mean that they cannot walk through the area, preventing them from reaching their church, what they said was a violation of their right to worship because the government is giving that right to Muslims.
Earlier this year, Parliament approved plans to build the first state-backed mosque in Athens on the site of a former naval base and is paying for it during a crushing economic crisis in which there have been big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensioners, worker firings and home foreclosures.
The prayer venue – a 1,000 square meter, two-level building without a minaret – will be able to accommodate about 350 worshippers.
It is supported by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA but not its coalition partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) of Defense Minister Panos Kammenos who don’t want the mosque, saying it was against their alleged principles which they have broken repeatedly in voting for more austerity.
The government is bearing the 800,000-euro ($850,920) cost during a crushing economic crisis as it’s been cutting pension benefits and education and health care budgets.
The 1,000-square meter facility will include a worship area for 300 men, a worship area for 50 women, auxiliary rooms, an office for the imam and an office for the muezzin.