Greece to charge first group of neo-Nazi lawmakers
(AFP) A first batch of lawmakers from the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn appeared before magistrates on Tuesday to face criminal charges as part of a crackdown on the organisation following the murder of an anti-fascist musician.
Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panagiotaros were transported from their cells at police headquarters to the Athens court in black jeeps escorted by police motorcyclists, television footage showed.
A crowd of around 100 Golden Dawn supporters shouted "you are heroes" to the four suspects, who were taken into the building via a back entrance to avoid the assembled media.
Three lower-ranking suspected members had appeared earlier. Two were conditionally released and a third will appear again before magistrates on Thursday.
The party's founder and leader Nikos Michaloliakos is set to be charged on Wednesday, followed by deputy leader Christos Pappas on Thursday.
An examining magistrate who prepared the charges has linked Golden Dawn to dozens of cases, including two homicides, three attempted homicides, two robberies and an arson attack against a bank.
If convicted, the defendants face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.
Military-style training for Golden Dawn members
"We have a golden opportunity to purge our society of violence," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Skai Radio, calling the group "a criminal organisation that tried to cover itself under a political cloak."
The former fringe party during last year's elections rode a wave of public discontent over austerity policies in the recession-hit country to enter parliament for the first time.
Golden Dawn was the country's third most popular party until the September killing of a leftist hip-hop musician sparked nationwide protests and a government crackdown on the group long accused of attacking immigrants, charges that it denies.
The investigation has revealed a series of "criminal acts" by the group, culminating in the alleged murder of anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas by a self-confessed neo-Nazi on September 18, according to a government report, parts of which were leaked in the media on Monday.
Golden Dawn regularly organised "assault militias" in which dozens of members would swarm the streets, hitting any immigrant they saw with clubs, it said.
Kasidiaris, the spokesman of Golden Dawn, is alleged to have overseen military-style training for Golden Dawn members while fellow deputy Lagos has a lengthy police record.
"Do whatever it takes" to eradicate neo-Nazism
Greece's intelligence service EYP in 2012 compiled a record on Lagos with activities including extortion and the trafficking of women for prostitution, Ta Nea daily reported on Tuesday.
At the time, the investigation into Golden Dawn activities, believed to also include scores of migrant beatings, made little progress.
But authorities were forced to act after the murder of Fyssas sparked protests about the government not acting sooner against the group.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Monday pledged to eradicate the "shame" of neo-Nazism in the country.
"We are dedicated in completely eradicating such a 'shame'," Samaras said in a speech to the American Jewish Committee in New York.
"We must do it within the context of our democratic constitution. But we have to go all the way and do whatever it takes," the premier said, according to a text released by his office.
Golden Dawn denies all accusations
As part of the sweep against the group, several police officers have been suspended for alleged links to the party, and three have been arrested outright for possible involvement in Golden Dawn activities.
Overall, some two dozen members of Golden Dawn, including six lawmakers, will appear in court this week after a series of arrests and police raids on party offices at the weekend.
Firearms have been found in the homes of several suspects, some of them held without the proper permits from police.
A search at the home of Pappas also found swastika flags, two German army helmets and bottles stamped with images of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, police said.
Golden Dawn denies all accusations and says it is the victim of political persecution designed to stem its rise ahead of local elections next year.
Emergency legislation has been submitted to parliament to stop the institutional flow of state funds to the party that at the moment has 18 deputies in the 300-member chamber.
Greece's main opposition party Syriza has accused Samaras of dragging his feet in prosecuting Golden Dawn, in order to avoid alienating right-wing hardliners within his own conservative party.