Lawmakers from the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn have appeared in court after a crackdown on the group following the murder of a musician. Some defendants face sentences of at least 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Four members of parliament and more than a dozen lower-ranking members of Golden Dawn will stand trial in the Athens court on charges ranging from attempted and voluntary homicide to belonging to a criminal organization after a series of arrests and police raids on the party and its adherents over the weekend.
"We have a golden opportunity to purge our society of violence," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Skai Radio, calling Golden Dawn "a criminal organization that tried to cover itself under a political cloak."
Alleged to have begun its attacks on immigrants as far back as 1987, Golden Dawn was able to take advantage of anxieties surrounding Greece's financial crisis to emerge from the 2012 elections with about 7 percent of the vote and 18 places in the 300-seat parliament. The right-wing anti-immigrant party had relatively high support until September, when the murder of an anti-fascist hip-hop musician, which was blamed on a member of the group, sparked protests that forced the government to crack down on it. Golden Dawn denies the charges.
'Whatever it takes'
The investigation revealed dozens of criminal acts blamed on Golden Dawn, culminating in the murder of the anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas by a self-confessed neo-Nazi on September 18, according to a government report leaked in part in the media on Monday. Golden Dawn regularly organized "assault militias" in which dozens of members would swarm the streets, hitting any immigrant they saw with clubs, according to the report.
"We are dedicated in completely eradicating such a 'shame'," Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a speech Monday to the American Jewish Committee in New York. "We must do it within the context of our democratic constitution," Samaras added, according to a text released by his office. "But we have to go all the way and do whatever it takes."
Members will appear at various times over the week, including Mikos Michaloliakos, the founder of the formerly fringe party, on Wednesday. Deputy leader Christos Pappas is scheduled to appear before the court on Thursday.
Scheduled to appear on Tuesday are the members of parliament Ilias Kasidiaris - the party spokesman and alleged to also have overseen military-style training for Golden Dawn adherents - and Yiannis Lagos, a Piraeus deputy. Greece's EYP intelligence service had begun compiling a record on Lagos in 2012, tracking activities such as extortion and the trafficking of women for prostitution, the daily Ta Nea reported on Tuesday.
Overall, some two dozen members of Golden Dawn, including six lawmakers, will appear in court this week. The government has also suspended several police officers for alleged links to Golden Dawn, and arrested three for their possible active involvement with the party. Parliament has also begun considering emergency legislation to stop the institutional flow of state funds to Golden Dawn.
mkg/rc (AFP, AP)