Greek police arrest neo-Nazi Golden Dawn leadership
Crackdown on country's third most popular political grouping follows neo-Nazi's killing of a leftist musician, which drew nationwide protests
Greek police yesterday swooped on the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, arresting its leadership and hunting for dozens of members across the country in a crackdown sparked by the murder of a leftist musician.
The arrests came a day after Golden Dawn threatened to pull its lawmakers out of parliament, a move that could spark a political crisis in the recession-hit country.
In dawn raids, Greek antiterror police arrested party leader Nikos Michaloliakos along with party spokesman and MP Ilias Kassidiairis, two other lawmakers and a dozen party members, police said.
The charges against them ranged from belonging to a "criminal organisation" to murder and assault, according to a source in the justice ministry.
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 party urged its followers to demonstrate against what it called an "illegal decision" and several hundred faithful had gathered in front of police headquarters in the capital Athens. Amid a sea of Greek flags, the protesters chanted the party's slogan, "Blood, honour, Golden Dawn", watched over by anti-riot police.
The police sweep came after the country's Supreme Court, which has been charged with investigating the group, issued arrest warrants for some 30 members.
Golden Dawn has faced a crackdown after a self-confessed neo-Nazi fatally stabbed popular hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas, 34, on September 18, a killing that sparked nationwide protests.
The party currently has 18 lawmakers in parliament and prior to the murder was the third most popular political grouping in the country.
"This government is determined not to allow the descendants of the Nazis to poison our social life, to commit crimes, terrorise and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy," Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned in a televised address a day after the killing.
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said Greece did not face the risk of political instability and Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou said all Golden Dawn members who had been arrested would receive a fair trial.
Michaloliakos has threatened to pull the group's deputies out of parliament, a move that would prompt by-elections in 15 regions around the country.
"We will exhaust any means within our legal constitutional rights to defend our political honour," he said late on Thursday.
"If the country enters a cycle of instability, it is those who demonise Golden Dawn who will be responsible, not [us]," he said.
By-elections could hurt Samaras' coalition government, which has a slim majority of 155 MPs in the 300-seat parliament, and could cast into doubt Greece's ability to fulfil its obligations to creditors on multibillion-euro bailouts.
Samaras' conservative party is neck-and-neck in the polls with the radical leftist Syriza party, and a strong showing by Syriza in by-elections could lead to the government's fall.