ATHENS – Greek leftists and members of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn faced off in Athens on Saturday over a protest organised against the indictment of several Golden Dawn members in a government crackdown.
Hundreds of leftist protesters and some 2,000 neo-Nazi supporters gathered near Golden Dawn offices in central Athens, an reporter on the scene said.
Police trucks were positioned to keep the rival groups apart, before the leftists dispersed without incident.
The wife of Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, who is in jail awaiting trial, said the party had “millions” of supporters and would emerge triumphant.
“Millions of Greeks follow us. Rest assured that with our leader in the front line, we will take our country back,” Eleni Zaroulia told the crowd.
Anti-fascist groups wanted to stop the Golden Dawn gathering from going ahead altogether.
“Put the murderers in prison and smash the para-state of Golden Dawn,” read a banner carried by the protesters, alluding to the neo-Nazis suspected sympathies among Greek police.
The demonstration came as authorities prepared to hit additional senior Golden Dawn members with fresh charges as early as next week, following a move by parliament to cut the party’s state funding.
Golden Dawn leader Michaloliakos, deputy party leader Christos Pappas and party MP Yiannis Lagos are already being held in a high-security Athens prison on charges of running or belonging to a criminal group.
In total six of the party’s MPs have been charged in connection with the investigation, which was prompted by the murder of an anti-fascist musician by a self-confessed neo-Nazi last month.
No trial date has been set for the indicted lawmakers. If convicted, each accused faces at least 10 years in prison.
Golden Dawn on Saturday said the government crackdown was “unfair, illegal, unconstitutional and purely political persecution”.
“The real purpose of this dirty war of mud is the political extermination of Golden Dawn, the only political force resisting the (austerity) storm,” the party said in a statement.
Golden Dawn is Greece’s third most popular party, with 18 seats in parliament.
Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, the group boosted its popularity by tapping into widespread anger over immigration and austerity reforms in debt-wracked Greece, which is slogging through its sixth year of recession and where youth unemployment stands at 60%.
But the September 18 murder of hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas by a Golden Dawn supporter triggered public outrage, putting pressure on Greek authorities to take action against the party.
Court documents have linked Golden Dawn to two murders including that of Fyssas, three attempted murders and numerous assaults.
Witnesses have also testified that senior party members were involved in migrant beatings, extortion and possible arms smuggling.
A number of police officers have also been arrested in connection with the investigation for allegedly aiding the group or turning a blind eye to its activities.
Views – 67