originally published at BBC
by Mark Lowen:
“It is really an extraordinary crackdown”
Greek police have arrested the leader of the far-right Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, on charges of forming a criminal organisation.
Three more Golden Dawn MPs, a leader in an Athens suburb and nine other party members have also been arrested.
The arrests come amid anger over the murder on 18 September of anti-racist musician, Pavlos Fyssas.
A man held for the stabbing told police he was a Golden Dawn supporter, though the party strongly denies any link.
Not since the end of Greece’s military dictatorship in 1974 has there been a mass arrest of MPs. It is an extraordinary clampdown by a government long accused of taking a soft touch towards Golden Dawn.
Some 154 racist attacks were recorded here last year and 104 so far this year – most attributed to Golden Dawn members. Two immigrants have been killed, again blamed on the party. But only now, after the killing of the hip hop artist Pavlos Fyssas, have authorities moved in hard and fast.
The government says it is this crime that has definitively exposed a direct chain of command to the party leadership, providing the basis for Golden Dawn to be classified as a criminal group.
The party has already had the immunity provided for Greek MPs lifted and one of those arrested on Saturday was tried earlier in the year in a separate incident. But with these arrests and several suspensions of police officers accused of links to Golden Dawn, the government has done more against the party this week than it has in the past year.
One of the MPs arrested on Saturday was party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris.
Another, Ilias Panayiotaros, told reporters before giving himself up: “Shame on them, the people will lift Golden Dawn higher.”
A number of other warrants are believed to have been issued.
Golden Dawn has called on its supporters to rally outside the police headquarters in Athens and has vowed to fight back.
A text message read: “We call upon everyone to support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system!”
The killing of Pavlos Fyssas, 34 – whose stage name was Killah P – has sparked protests in Athens and across Greece.
George Roupakias, 45, who said he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, was arrested. He was charged with voluntary manslaughter and illegal possession of a weapon.
The government launched a crackdown, including raids on Golden Dawn premises.
Two senior police officials resigned for “personal reasons” after the killing and another two were suspended. Seven other police officers were suspended.
Greek police also arrested one of their own colleagues who was reportedly working as a bodyguard for the party, during a raid on its offices in the western town of Agrinio on Tuesday.
Golden Dawn – key dates
- Began 1980 but more formally established 1985
- Party banner is a Greek decorative border, often compared with Nazi insignia
- In 1996 elections, won just 4,487 votes – 0.07%. European election performance in 2004 was 0.17%, in 2009 0.46%
- Nikolaos Michaloliakos wins place on Athens Municipal Council in 2010 with 5.29%
- Breakthrough in May 2012 election with 441,018 votes and 21 deputies, cut to 18 MPs in June re-run
- June 2012 – Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris throws water and slaps rival politician on TV
- Sept 2013 – George Roupakias (above), self-proclaimed supporter, arrested for murder of musician Pavlos Fyssas
- Sept 2013 – Leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and other party members arrested
The government also began an inquiry into the activities of Golden Dawn, which won nearly 7% of the vote in 2012 elections.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has vowed not to let the party “undermine” democracy, and government officials say it must now be treated as a “criminal organisation”.
Golden Dawn, Greece’s third most popular party, has accused the government of carrying out a witch-hunt over the Fyssas killing.
Mr Michaloliakos, 56, said last week: “Everyone is talking about us without asking us. They are throwing dirt from morning to evening, and these great Democrats are not giving us an inch to respond.”
On Friday, Golden Dawn threatened to pull its 18 MPs out of the 300-strong Hellenic Parliament.
Mr Samaras’s coalition, which has 155 seats, would then face by-elections.
In recent months, Golden Dawn has been accused of perpetrating attacks on migrants and political opponents – including an attack on Communist Party members earlier this month which is said to have left nine people in hospital.
Golden Dawn officially denies being a neo-Nazi movement, though its badge resembles a swastika, some senior members have praised Adolf Hitler, and its members wear black T-shirts and combat trousers at anti-immigrant demonstrations.