The first mosque in the Greek capital will open after 14 years of bureaucratic delays, local media reports.

The first mosque in the Greek capital Athens opened after 14 years of controversy and bureaucratic delays, local media reported.

The mosque’s inaugural prayers were held on Monday evening with physical distancing measures as the number of COVID-19 cases increased in Greece, as in much of Europe. Only a handful of people could attend.

With the opening, Athens is shaking off its status as the only capital of the European Union that does not have a mosque, reported the Anadolu agency.

The mosque’s first imam is Zaki Mohammed, 49, a Greek citizen of Moroccan origin, the Greek daily Ekathimerini said.

The opening of the mosque “sends a clear message … of democracy, religious freedom and respect,” quoted the Kathimerini newspaper as quoting the government secretary for religious affairs, Giorgos Kalantzis.

Resistance from the Greek Orthodox Church had delayed the opening of the mosque since 1979. It took years, even after the government gave the go-ahead in 2006.

The 2006 decision to build a mosque with a budget of $ 1.04 million was held back by bureaucratic hurdles, protests by far-right groups and legal challenges.

The vast majority of Greeks, 97 percent, are Orthodox Christians.

However, there is a Muslim minority concentrated along the land border with Turkey, and tens of thousands of Muslim workers and refugees live in the country.

Turkey has long condemned Greek violations of the rights of its Muslim and Turkish minorities, from the closure of mosques to the decay of historic mosques.

These measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), say Turkish officials.

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