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Authorities move against ‘paramilitaries’ occupying site of first mosque in Athens

Greece pledges action against khaki-clad men who set up a ‘homeless shelter for Greeks only’ on the former navy base in July

Supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn group march in the capital Athens (Reuters)

Greek authorities have moved against men in military garb who stormed the planned site of the first official mosque in Athens, setting up a homeless shelter “for Greeks only” instead.

The men, who call themselves the “Greek movement of Reservists and Citizen-Soldiers” and refer to their leader as “the general,” stormed the site in western Athens in mid-July.

They have since erected barbed wire fencing around the site, in the suburb of Votanikos and close to a refugee reception centre.

Khaki-dressed members of the group told local news site News IT on Wednesday that they were guarding the site to prevent “armed” Muslims housed in the centre from coming in.

“This is free Greece,” Iannis Ioannides, the group’s leader, told News IT.

“This is a homeless shelter only for Greeks,” he went on, referring to what he called the “risk of the Islamisation of society” if the mosque is built.

“If [the state] brings in bulldozers to build the mosque I will pull the driver out of his cab. Let them fire as much teargas as they want. And they should also bring body bags for the corpses afterwards.”

There is no indication as to whether any homeless people have taken shelter in the camp since it was set up.

The head of the National Commission for Human Rights, Kostis Papaioannou, said on Wednesday that he was “extremely concerned” by the occupation and had called on all state institutions involved with the site to intervene.

“The activity of these groups reminds of past hateful activities, and endangers public order and security.

“The construction of the mosque is a decision of the state and an international obligation of this country.”

On Wednesday, the ruling Syriza party issued its first statement on the occupation since it began in July, saying “far-right paramilitaries” must not be allowed to impede religious freedom in Greece.

“The barbed wire used to fence off the area and the military garb of the squat members are a direct reference to far-right paramilitaries,” a statement from Syriza’s press office read.

“This movement must be stopped as soon as possible. These extremist cries will not impede the exercise of religious freedom by people living in our country.”

The planned site of the mosque was confirmed in early July, just days before it was overrun by the occupiers.

The site is a disused navy base, and is owned by the Municipality of Athens.

The capital’s estimated 200,000 practising Muslims currently have no official place of worship, and instead pray in approximately 100 impromptu centres across the city.