Greece charges fascist party leader in major crackdown
THE leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party, widely viewed as Europe's most violent political force, appeared in court last night on charges of heading a criminal gang after police mounted an unprecedented crackdown on the fascist party, arresting Nikos Michaloliakos and other key members of his organisation.
After a high-stakes police operation in which anti-terrorism officers stormed the homes of Golden Dawn politicians across Athens, Michaloliakos and five of his MPs were seized. Fourteen other senior Golden Dawn activists were taken into custody, accused of fomenting violence as members of a criminal organisation.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras held emergency talks with his public order and justice ministers after the raids.
Emerging from the discussion, Justice Minister Charalambos Athanasiou insisted that those who had been arrested will face "just justice". "Justice has moved with decisiveness and transparency," he said. "I want to say for all those who have been arrested, if they are sent to trial there will be just justice."
Authorities said 25 counter-terrorism units were trying to track down two other politicians almost nine hours after Mr Michaloliakos was arrested in his Athens home at 7am. Greek media quoted the politician as telling police: "What you are doing is not right. The truth will shine," as he was taken into custody in handcuffs. Hundreds of Golden Dawn supporters, many wearing the party's black T-shirts, gathered outside police HQ in Athens, spurred on by a text message sent by the party to "support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system".
Mr Michaloliakos and his chief lieutenant, the party's spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, were inside the building as the supporters massed.
Only on Friday, Mr Kasidiaris, who became infamous with an assault on two female left-wing MPs during a live television debate last year, had openly joked that "we are here to hand ourselves in", as the party launched a lawsuit against Pasok, the junior leftwing party in Samaras's fragile coalition.
Police officials said a number of weapons had also been discovered in the crackdown. Three unlicensed guns allegedly found in Mr Michaloliakos's suburban home were to undergo ballistics tests, and tens of thousands of euro were also apparently found, the media reported.
Greece's third biggest party, Golden Dawn, has seen its popularity soar on the back of desperation and despair, becoming Europe's most extreme right-wing political force in the process.
Since being elected to parliament for the first time in June last year with seven per cent of the popular vote, the party has been linked to a wave of violence directed mostly against migrants, gay people and leftists in Greece's increasingly fractious political scene. The fatal stabbing this month of Pavlos Fyssas, a hip-hop star popular among anti-fascists, prompted widespread outrage and galvanised the governing coalition into taking action.
Amid revelations that Golden Dawn had set up hit squads with the help of commandos in the special forces and openly colluded with the police, the authorities launched a far-reaching inquiry into the group's activities.
Two senior police generals resigned and several officers were suspended after allegations of links with the party.
More than a dozen Golden Dawn members, including the 45-year-old man who confessed to murdering Mr Fyssas, were rounded up.