Extreme-right Golden Dawn party lawmaker Ilias Panagiotaros is escorted by anti-terrorism police officers as he arrives at a courthouse in Athens yesterday.
ATHENS: Greek police yesterday cracked down on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, arresting its founding leader and four other members in parliament, following the murder of a leftist musician allegedly by a party activist.
The arrests came a day after Golden Dawn threatened to pull its lawmakers out of parliament, a move that could trigger a political crisis in the recession-hit country.
In dawn raids, Greek anti-terror police arrested Nikos Michaloliakos, who founded the party in 1980, along with party spokesman and MP Ilias Kassidiairis and three other lawmakers, police said.
The charges against them included belonging to a “criminal organisation”, and for some of the suspects also assault and murder, according to a source in the Justice Ministry.
Golden Dawn faced a crackdown after a self-confessed neo-Nazi allegedly fatally stabbed popular hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas, 34, on September 18, a killing that sparked nationwide protests.
About a dozen party members, including two police officers, in the Athens area were also being questioned in the ongoing police operation which is expected to lead to more arrests, police and judicial sources said.
The police sweep came after Greece’s supreme court, which has been charged with investigating the far-right group, issued arrest warrants for some 30 members.
Golden Dawn yesterday urged its followers to demonstrate against what it called an “illegal decision” and several hundred faithful had gathered in front of the police station where the suspects are being held.
Amid a sea of Greek flags, the protesters chanted the party’s slogan, “Blood, honour, Golden Dawn”, watched over by anti-riot police.
“Golden Dawn is still there, it will not retreat. You can’t put its ideas in prison, we will fight to the end,” Artemis Matheopoulos, a party MP, told AFP.
The party currently has 18 lawmakers in parliament and prior to the musician’s murder was the third most popular political grouping in the country.