ATHENS (Reuters) - The long-stalled construction of a state-funded mosque in Athens came a step closer on Thursday with the announcement that a consortium of Greek companies had won the tender to build it.
Athens has not had a formal mosque since Greece won independence from occupying Ottomans in 1832 and has been criticized by human rights groups such as Amnesty International for being one of the few European capitals without one.
But a government decision in May to revive the project during the country’s deepest economic crisis had divided a country that spent nearly four centuries under Turkish Ottoman rule, where hostility towards migrants is rising and the Orthodox Church is a powerful institution.
The far-right Golden Dawn party has threatened to block the plan and one local bishop, Seraphim of Piraeus, has taken the issue to the top administrative court, the Council of State.
J&P Avax, Terna, Aktor, Intrakat won the tender to build the mosque that will cost about 946,000 euros ($1.27 million) and is expected to take six months to be completed, the Infrastructure Ministry said.
The government launched the tender in May. A previous competition after that failed to attract suitable bidders. Repeated plans for a mosque in Athens have all fallen through, including one planned for the 2004 Olympics.
The mosque’s critics say the near 1 million euro cost is too high a price tag for a country dependent on foreign aid to stay afloat and struggling through six years of recession that has left more than one in four of the workforce jobless.
Greece is home to about 1 million immigrants and groups such as Golden Dawn say undocumented workers have pushed up crime and put a burden on state resources at a time of crisis.
Muslim groups estimate more than 200,000 Muslims from countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh live in Athens alone.
Without a proper place of worship, they have been praying in makeshift mosques set up in old garages or dingy warehouses. Many have been the target of racist attacks and at least one has been set on fire.
The mosque, which will be about 600 square meters, will have no minaret and will be built on a disused naval base in Votanikos, a rundown industrial neighborhood where locals have held a number of protests against the plan, led by the far-right National Front movement. ($1 = 0.7430 euros)
(This story corrects to say four centuries, not decades spent under Ottoman rule)
Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Alison Williams