Greece orders closure of Muslim prayer hall near Athens

The Greek authorities have ordered a Muslim prayer hall in Athens area to shut down, the Muslim Association of Greece said

"We are sad to announce that we received a closing order for one of the oldest praying halls of the capital, an order delivered by the police and decided by the ministry of education and religions, without any chance of negotiating with the ministry," the association said in a statement on Tuesday.

The closure order for the prayer hall, located in Piraeus, a port city 12 kilometres from central Athens, was a symbolic act on behalf of the Greek government that wants to suppress religious expression, it said.

The move came at a time when the tensions are rising between Turkey and Greece over possible plans to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque. 

Last month, a Turkish religious official recited a chapter of the Quran inside Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine cathedral which was turned into a mosque by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 and transformed into a museum in 1935, prompting a dispute over the UNESCO site.

Over the years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly called for the structure to be restored as a mosque, a move that would meet a long-standing demand by Turkish Islamists.