Greece's Golden Dawn party has vowed to partake in local and European elections next May despite the looming threat of a government crackdown. Thousands of the party's supporters rallied in Athens for the announcement.
Ilias Kassidiaris, a lawmaker and spokesman for the party, told around 3,000 of Golden Dawn's supporters (pictured) in the center of the Greek capital on Saturday night that he would find a way to contest the upcoming vote.
"We will participate in the elections, one way or another," said Kassidiaris, who has been the most prominent member of the party since its leader was arrested.
He told the crowd that if the Golden Dawn party is banned, the National Dawn party has been founded as a backup of sorts.
"Patriots will have a party to vote for in the next election if [authorities] go ahead with the coup to ban Golden Dawn," Kassidiaris said.
Saturday's rally was held to commemorate a 1996 dispute between Greece and Turkey over an islet that left three navy officers dead and brought the countries to the brink of war.
Police were able to peacefully disperse the Golden Dawn demonstration, though a counter-rally at Syntagma Square held by anti-fascists resulted in light scuffles. Authorities used tear gas to break up the crowd and chased protesters, who had set a garbage can and ATM on fire, to a train station.
Golden Dawn was formerly a fringe organization but saw a surge in popularity as Greece's financial crisis unfolded. Following the party's ascension to parliament in 2012 there were renewed calls for it to be banned.
A prosecutor's report called the party a "criminal organization" that is responsible for carrying out a number of attacks, some fatal, particularly on migrants. In addition to the party's leader, five other Golden Dawn lawmakers are in jail as part of government investigations into the organization's alleged criminality. The party, which has a Swastika-light emblem and takes an extreme view against immigrants, has been called a neo-Nazi, fascist party – a label it rejects.
Nonetheless, it remains Greece's third most popular political party and is expected to perform well in the May elections amid anger over government cuts. Recent polls show the party would garner 8.9 to 10.3 percent of the vote if it were held now.
Kassidiaris, who is running for mayor of Athens, said that the arrests of senior Golden Dawn members wouldn't stop the party from moving forward.
"They put us in jail. And what happened? Did we falter? No, we did not," he said. "We are stronger, we are more powerful and in a short time we will be in power."
dr/mr (AP, Reuters, AFP)