Muslims protest in Athens over Koran rumour

November 18, 2010

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A Greek Orthodox priest sits outside a cafe with other Greek neighbours as Muslim immigrants pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Attiki square in Athens. -Reuters Photo

ATHENS: Hundreds of Muslims living in Athens protested outside the city hall on Thursday over a rumour that Greek police had torn up a Koranic text after arresting an Egyptian street vendor, officials said.

At least 300 Muslims from various countries gathered at a square outside the city hall before authorities dispelled the rumour and released the vendor, police said.

The protest follows an incident late on Tuesday when unknown assailants attempted to lock up and burn 40 Bangladeshi migrants inside a makeshift mosque, a Muslim leader said.

“The climate has become very charged,” Naim El Gadour, chairman of the Muslim Union of Greece, told AFP.

In another incident on Tuesday, Muslims meeting at a square in Athens to celebrate Eid al-Adha, one of Islam's main holidays, were harrassed by local residents who threw eggs at them and blared loud music from windows.

Members of a far-right group also threatened to physically remove the Muslims from the square but were held back by riot police.

Anger towards migrants and racist attacks have escalated on the streets of Athens in recent months as the debt-hit country battles a growing recession that has brought thousands of job layoffs.

The anti-migrant feeling manifested itself in this month's local elections where the far-right group Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) elected a member to the city council.

About 100,000 Muslims from Arab nations, Africa and the Indian subcontinent live and work in Athens, usually in poor conditions that include meagre wages and exploitation, squalid accommodation and frequent police abuse.

A long-standing grievance is that despite years of promises the Greek state has provided no official prayer sites, forcing Muslim faithful to craft mosques out of rented flats and disused warehouses.

A staunchly Orthodox state with bitter memories of nearly four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule, Greece currently offers sanctioned Muslim religious sites only near its northeastern border with Turkey where a Muslim minority of Turkish origin lives.

All traces of Islam were eradicated in Athens in the early 19th century when Christianity was restored, and bureaucratic wrangling and opposition from local church leaders and mayors have since stalled plans for a mosque and cemetery.