New Democracy mayor candidate says Athens mosque would attract 'illegal immigration'

Proposed mosque would result in 'third-world tents' popping up around the 'sacred rock of the Acropolis', says Aris Spiliotopoulos

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Construction of Athens' first official mosque within the municipality's borders would result in 'third-world tents (appearing) under the sacred rock of the Acropolis', says Aris Spiliotopoulos, a former New Democracy education minister

Aris Spiliotopoulos (Photo: Reuters) Aris Spiliotopoulos (Photo: Reuters) New Democracy's official candidate for the position of Athens mayor has said the city's first mosque should be built outside of the municipality's borders on the grounds that the capital does not need "another pole for illegal immigration" or "third-world tents under the sacred rock of the Acropolis".

In an interview with Skai TV, Aris Spiliotopoulos said that his recent calls for a city-wide referendum on the proposals to build Athens first mosque were not motivated by religious differences, but over concerns about the location of the structure.

Last year, the New Democracy-Pasok coalition government agreed to build a mosque on land belonging to the Hellenic Navy in Votanikos, near central Athens. In November, it awarded the €946,000 construction contract to a private consortium. Work on the building was expected to commence early this year.

Although he was an MP in the government that awarded the contract, Spiliotopoulos has repeatedly sought to blame the incumbent mayor, Yiorgos Kaminis, for the location of the mosque.

"Mr Kaminis says that he wants to plant a mosque in the centre of Athens and I say that we should ask the Athenians before we plant it," said Spiliotopoulos, who was tourism minister from 2007 to 2009 and then education minister for a number of months. 

He added that Athenians know better than the education ministry – which has responsibility for religious affairs – or the mayor on where the mosque should go and that city residents should decide who lives in the city.

He said he was opposed the construction of a mosque within the limits of the municipality of Athens. "I don't want it in Athens. We already have high urban density. I don't want any more concrete structures, I don't want another pole for illegal immigration; I don't new third-world tents under the sacred rock of the Acropolis."

Even though the Votanikos site is located 3km from the Acropolis, Spiliotopoulos told the programme that "I don't want (the mosque) next to the Parthenon".

Scroll to the 37th minute to hear Aris Spiliotopoulos make his comments on the mosque

Makeshift mosques

Athens is the only capital city among the 15 “older” European Union member states that does not have an official mosque. The city’s Muslims - an estimated 120,000, mostly immigrants and refugees - pray at these makeshift mosques, many of them located in basement and groundfloor apartments.

On Saturday, a party representing Greek Muslims in Thrace described Spiliotopoulos' referendum proposals as an "insult to the hundreds of thousands of Muslims living in Athens, the only capital in the European Union without a mosque.

"The construction of a mosque has been delayed for strange reasons for many years, which has opened a deep wound in terms of freedom of religion. Now, proposing a referendum for a place of worship has created great disappointment. We expect politicians to leave such a mentality, to avoid putting our country Greece in a difficult position within the international arena," the Friendship, Equality and Peace Party said.

It added that everyone, regardless of their religion," has a right to their own place of worship and thus Muslims in Athens should be given their right at once".

Last November neonazi Golden Dawn called for a national referendum on the Athens mosque issue.

Mosque timeline

July 2000 Parliament approves plans to build Islamic Cultural centre and mosque in Peania, a suburb close to Athens International Airport

June 2001 Ambassador Abdallah Abdallah, of the Palestine diplomatic representation and the dean of Arab ambassadors in Athens, says that King Fahd of Saudi Arabia will finance the building of the mosque

July 2002 European Union Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles says "the secretary-general for religious affairs [Ioannis Konnidaris], as well as Archbishop Christodoulos, assured [him] that they had no objection to the building of a mosque for Muslims established in the Athens district"

October 2002 Father Epifanios, Church of Greece spokesman, says the church would oppose the creation of a mosque in the downtown area because the average Greek is not yet ready to accept the idea of a minaret in the city centre

April 2003 Asked why construction hasn't begun in Peania, foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis says the government has repeatedly called on Arab ambassadors to hurry up

Foreign Minister George Papandreou renews the government's pledge to build a mosque in time for the 2004 Olympic Games

August 2003 Peania Mayor Paraskevas Papakostopoulos says he will fight the decision to build the mosque

September 2003 The Orthodox Church comes out against the plan for a mosque in Peania. Athens Archbishop Christodoulos is concerned that its dome and a minaret will send the wrong message about Greece - a Christian country - to visitors flying into the airport

July 2004 Foreign ministry spokesman Yiorgos Koumoutsakos says the mosque project is in "a final stage now"

March 2006 Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, expresses his dissatisfaction over the fact that Muslims are forced to "meet in secret in places unsuitable for prayer"

April 2006 Media reports that Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is against the Peania mosque plan and prefers to have one opened closer to the downtown area. The Orthodox church says it will not oppose efforts to create a mosque in Athens, dropping past concerns

May 2006 Thousands of local immigrant Muslims sign a petition demanding the creation of a mosque closer to Athens

July 2006 The government’s inner cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, approves plans to build a mosque in Eleonas. Archbishop Christodoulos also approves the plans

October 2006 Education Minister Marietta Yannakou holds a press conference to unveil new draft legislation that paves the way for a mosque in Eleonas, near downtown Athens and within walking distance to a new metro station currently under construction.

July 2007 Muslims in Athens use a donation of €2.5m from a Saudi businessman to convert an old textile factory in Moschato into the Greek-Arab Educational and Cultural Centre - a 6,000 square meter prayer site that can accommodate more than 2,000 worshippers

October 2007 Parliament finally passes the draft law for the mosque in Eleonas

August 2011 The government gives Muslims permission to celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Olympic Stadium of Athens

September 2011 Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, by holding open-air prayers in public squares in Athens. Some groups are harassed. Members of Golden Dawn tried to physically remove one group, but they were stopped by riot police

Parliament passes with 198 votes (out of 300) a new law (4014/2011) for the construction of the mosque in Eleonas. The law details plans for a larger mosque to accommodate 500 worshippers and estimates the cost at €16m euros.

August 2012 Muslims are once again allowed to celebrate the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr in an indoor hall of the Olympic Complex in Athens

April 2013 Government announces it will publish a tender for the long-awaited and controversial mosque project

November 2013 Infrastructure ministry awards  €946,000 contract for the mosque’s construction to a consortium comprising the firms J&P Avax, Terna, Aktor and Intrakat

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