Violent clashes as Greeks protest against far-right Golden Dawn
Violent clashes with police as thousands show their anger at murder of anti-fascist musician
Police clashed with protesters in Athens at the end of a huge march sparked by the murder of an anti-fascist musician allegedly at the hands of a self-confessed neo-Nazi.
Protesters were seen hurling petrol bombs at anti-riot police, who responded with tear gas a few hundred metres from the headquarters of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn.
Some also attacked shops and a bank after police parked trucks in the road to block their access to the party offices.
About 10,000 left-wing activists staged a peaceful protest in Athens earlier on Wednesday over the fatal stabbing last week of 34-year-old musician Pavlos Fyssas by unemployed truck driver George Roupakias.
Golden Dawn member Roupakias admitted stabbing Fyssas but said it was in self-defence.
The killing sparked a wave of sometimes violent protests and prompted an unprecedented crackdown on Golden Dawn after months of inaction by the authorities.
Golden Dawn has been accused of instigating beatings of migrants and political opponents. Several of its lawmakers have been implicated in assaults, but police failed to pursue most of the cases.
This changed after Fyssas' murder, with the government this week suspending several senior police officers for failing to investigate suspected illegal activity by Golden Dawn.
Police raids on Golden Dawn offices in search of hidden weapons were also ordered this week, amid reports that the party organised military-style training activities for its members.
In the wake of Fyssas' murder, government officials and police unionists have confirmed long-running fears that Golden Dawn has broad support among police.
"Over the last three years there are many incidents in which fellow officers tolerated violence by Golden Dawn members," said Christos Fotopoulos, head of the Greek association of police staff.
Two police generals quit their posts on Monday and several other officers on the island of Evia were suspended after failing to investigate a Golden Dawn office near a local police station where weapons were allegedly kept. On Tuesday, a police officer assigned to a Golden Dawn lawmaker prosecuted for anti-migrant aggression was arrested in the central town of Agrinio.
Golden Dawn has vehemently denied links to the singer's killer - despite pictures emerging of Roupakias participating in party activities - and says it is the victim of a smear campaign.
"I cannot possibly be Al Capone, ordering paid criminals to every corner of Greece," party leader Nikos Michaloliakos said.
He dismissed the claims as "laughable" and threatened to sue the party's political rivals.
A few days prior to Fyssas' murder, members of the Communist Party were assaulted by alleged Golden Dawn supporters while putting up posters.
On Wednesday, the union of Greek journalists said reporters who exposed the inner workings of Golden Dawn received threats.
Golden Dawn, capitalising on a rise in social tension in the debt-stricken country, was first elected to parliament last year with nearly seven per cent of the vote, winning 18 of the body's 300 seats.
Until the high-profile murder, Golden Dawn's approval ratings had steadily grown and it became the third most popular party in the country. But the latest polls show a decline in voter support.
In an April speech to his lawmakers, Michaloliakos warned that efforts to outlaw Golden Dawn would "open the gates of hell" and would be opposed by "a million Greeks".
"We are ready for whatever it takes. Exile. Even prison," he said.