Thousands of Muslim immigrants attended outdoor prayer services across Athens Tuesday to mark the festival of Eid-al-Adha, while police clashed with a small group of protesters from an extreme right group at one of the sites.
The services at eight public squares and other areas in greater Athens occurred peacefully, but police cleared one square where Greek local residents and members of the far-right Chrysi Avgi – a group widely linked to a number violent attacks against immigrants – gathered.
Police later briefly clashed with several dozen of its members.
Protesters played loud music from a nearby apartment, threw eggs, and jeered at the immigrants throughout the hour-long service in the city’s Attiki Square.
The incident occurred as tension grows over illegal immigration in Greece, the busiest transit point for human trafficking in the European Union.
Leader of Chrysi Avgi, Nikos Michaloliakos, was elected to Athens’ City Council in local government elections that ended last weekend.
Michaloliakos campaigned on anti-immigrant issues and against a long-delayed government plan to build a state-funded mosque in the Greek capital.
“This is a protest against the effort to turn Athens’ public squares into an area of outdoor prayer for Muslims,” Michaloliakos told supporters who gathered at Attiki Square late Monday.
On Tuesday, a group representing Muslim immigrants described the incident at Attiki Square as minor and thanked Greek authorities for sanctioning and policing the outdoor services, which were also held opposite Athens City Hall and outside the Athens University.
“We don’t want to let anyone blacken the image of this country,” Naim Elghandour, head of the recently created Muslim Association of Greece, told Skai television.
“We want to peacefully coexist with everyone else,” he said. “The prayers held today is not to exert pressure to build a mosque in Athens. That is a question of civilization, because Athens is the only capital city in the European Union without a mosque.”
Athens’ Muslim community usually hold their prayer sessions at cultural centers or community halls or private apartments around the city.
In the past, moves to build a mosque in the capital have been met with opposition from local residents and some priests of the Greek orthodox church.
However, the current archbishop supports the construction of a mosque and the socialist government has set aside a site close to the city center, although building has not yet begun.