Greece: Athens mosque likely to open in September

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A general view of the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP)
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A boy walks in front of a new mosque in Athens on June 7, 2019, the first official place of worship for Athens Muslims in over a century. (AFP)
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Muslims faithfuls pray in a new mosque in Athens on June 7, 2019, the first official place of worship for Athens Muslims in over a century. (AFP)
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Muslims women take pictures with their smart phones inside the first state-funded mosque in Athens on Friday, June 7, 2019. (AP)
Updated 07 June 2019
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Greece: Athens mosque likely to open in September

  • The mosque will provide an official place of worship for the country's Muslim immigrant community and for visitors
  • Tens of thousands of Muslim migrants live in the greater Athens area, and have been using informal prayer rooms around the capital

ATHENS: Greece's education and religion minister says the country's long-delayed first state-sponsored mosque is likely to begin operating in September, about three years after its construction was approved by parliament.
Kostas Gavroglou spoke Friday during a visit to the nearly complete mosque on the outskirts of Athens' city center, accompanied by representatives of the Muslim community. Its construction has been controversial, with some opposing a mosque in the Greek capital.
"It is particularly good that soon there will be the first prayer from the imam of the Athens mosque. We hope this will happen in September at the latest," Gavroglou said.
The mosque, approved by lawmakers in August 2016 and built in a mainly industrial area of the capital, will provide an official place of worship for the country's Muslim immigrant community and for visitors. Tens of thousands of Muslim migrants live in the greater Athens area, and have been using informal prayer rooms in basements and disused stores.
Gavroglou noted the Athens mosque, unlike most in Europe, was a public and not a privately-owned place of worship.
"It doesn't belong to anyone, because it belongs to all of us and all of you," he said. "Here, the owner is not an individual, nor a community, nor a society nor a foreign country."
The near completion of the project has been greeted with relief by members of the capital's Muslim community.
"I would like to start by thanking Allah that we finally have a mosque where we can pray, we can gather, we can talk about out matters," said Zaki Mohamed, the mosque's imam.
Ashir Haidar, a representative of the Shia Muslim community of Greece, described the upcoming opening as "a dream come true."
"It is a great gift from the Greek state to the Muslim community of Athens and it is a symbolic work that shows respect of the Greek state to the religion of Islam," he said.
Having to use informal prayer rooms dotted around the Greek capital often led to problems, with local residents sometimes objecting to some practices, said Alishba Zahra Rizvi, a 19-year-old from Pakistan who has been living in Greece for the past four years and came to view the new facility. "But here it's official, so we can do everything here, we can celebrate our festivals and everything."


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 20 July 2019
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.