Disputed Athens mosque given go ahead

Greece's new government has approved plans for Athens's first mosque since the fall of Ottoman rule almost two centuries ago.

A plan for an Islamic centre just north of the city has long been dogged by controversy, as local people and representatives of the Greek Orthodox Church campaigned fiercely against it.

Despite that resistance, officials of the conservative government voted into power last month have confirmed that they have given the green light for the mosque, which is to be financed by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

At present Athens is the only capital in the European Union without a mosque although there are estimated to be tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in the city.

Greece is 97 per cent Orthodox Christian and suspicion still lingers between the Christian and Muslim communities. In 2002, the mayor of the Athens suburb where the mosque is to be built was elected because of his pledge to bar it from the town.

"We are still strongly opposed to having a mosque here," said Paraskevas Papkostopoulos, mayor of Peania, about ten miles north of Athens.