Orthodox church wants government to scrap planned mosque near Athens airport

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

ATHENS, Greece (AP) The Greek Orthodox Church wants the government to stop plans to build the first new mosque in Athens in two centuries, saying an Islamic structure near the international airport would give visitors a wrong impression.

Two letters from Archbishop Christodoulos asked Foreign Minister George Papandreou to instead build a church in a ''very visible'' location near the airport to show foreign visitors the ''Greek Orthodox stamp of the nation.''

Papandreou promised in May that the mosque would be ready for next year's Olympics. It was unclear if objections would delay the mosque project, which requires presidential consent.

Mosques for the country's 120,000 Muslims operate only in northern Greece.

Tens of thousands of Muslims in the Athens area hold prayers in private homes or travel north for weddings, burials and other ceremonies. Athens has had no mosques since Greece won independence in 1832 after four centuries of Muslim Ottoman rule.

The coordinator of the mosque project said funding comes from Saudi Arabia's King Fahd.

About 97 percent of native Greeks are baptized into Orthodoxy.

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