Far-right Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Mihaloliakos is
escorted by anti-terrorism police officers as he leaves the
Greek police headquarters in Athens. REUTERS/John Kolesidis
Greek police have arrested the leader and more than a
dozen senior members and lawmakers from the far-right Golden
Dawn party after the killing of an anti-fascist rapper by a
party supporter triggered outrage and protests across the
Party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, spokesman Ilias
Kasidiaris, three other lawmakers and more than 10 members of
the party were arrested on charges of founding and
participating in a criminal organisation.
"Nothing can scare us!," shouted a handcuffed Kasidiaris,
flanked by hooded police officers carrying machine guns on
his way to face a prosecutor.
In the most significant crackdown on a political party in
Greece since the fall of a military dictatorship in 1974, the
arrests are the biggest setback to Golden Dawn since it
entered parliament on an anti-immigrant agenda last year.
Ranked as Greece's third most popular party, it is under
investigation for the murder of Pavlos Fissas, who bled to
death after being stabbed twice by a party sympathiser.
The detainees were taken under high security to the
prosecutors' office. They are expected to be charged
officially on evidence linking the party with a string of
attacks, including the stabbing of the rapper on September 17
and the killing of an immigrant last year, court officials
The party has denied any links to the killing and
Mihaloliakos has warned Golden Dawn could pull its lawmakers
from parliament if the crackdown does not stop.
If potential by-elections were won by the opposition, as some
polls indicate, Greece's fragile two-party coalition would
become politically untenable, Mihaloliakos has argued.
Police also confiscated two guns and a hunting rifle from
Mihaloliakos' home, saying he did not have a licence for
Two police officials were also arrested on Saturday for
breach of duty in relation to the case.
The party on its website called for protests.
Several hundred of its supporters gathered outside police
headquarters waving Greek flags and chanting "Long live the
leader!" and "Blood, Honour, Golden Dawn".
About 200 protesters unfurled a banner reading "Golden Dawn"
outside the party's headquarters in Athens.
"Golden Dawn is here; It will not back down. You cannot jail
ideas," Golden Dawn MP Artemis Mattheopoulos, who is not
among those detained, told reporters.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government has so far
resisted calls to ban the party, fearing it could make it
even more popular at a time of growing anger at repeated
rounds of austerity measures and instead, it has tried to
undermine the party by ordering probes that could deprive it
of state funding.
Samaras ruled out snap elections after the arrests.
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.
The arrests surprised Greeks wary of political theatre in a
country where little has been done to rein in a party that is
widely viewed as neo-Nazi.
"It's good that they arrested them, but I'm afraid that we
will start killing each other now," said Dimitra
Vassilopoulou, a 58-year old housewife.
"Does the government actually mean it or is it just a tactic
to impress us? Why didn't they do anything when the
immigrants were killed? How come they just discovered that
Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation?"
Golden Dawn now controls 18 of parliament's 300 seats,
scoring 14 percent in opinion polls before the stabbing. A
survey by ALCO pollsters this week showed support had fallen
to as low as 6.7 percent.
Greek lawmakers do not lose their political rights or seats
unless there is a final court ruling against them but the
government has proposed a law that could block state funding
for Golden Dawn if police find links to Fissas's murder.
The party, whose emblem resembles a swastika, rose from
obscurity to enter parliament last year after promising to
mine Greece's borders to prevent illegal immigrants from
entering. Its members have been seen giving Nazi-style
salutes but the party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
Human rights' groups have accused the party of being linked
to attacks on immigrants but this is the first time it is
being is investigated for evidence linking it to an attack.