A rally against extremists brings together Greeks and immigrants.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 14/03/13
Thousands of Greeks and immigrants gathered to protest racism and to condemn the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party. [AFP]
The Greek government is taking measures to address growing extremism and assaults against immigrants following the murder of 27-year-old Pakistani man in Athens.
Shehzad Luqman, who lived in Greece since 2007, was stabbed to death as he rode his motorcycle to work.
"The impunity must stop and getting to the bottom of the murder of the 27-year-old citizen from Pakistan could represent a significant starting point. The city of Athens, Greek society and democracy cannot tolerate such repulsive behavior any longer," Athens Mayor George Kaminis said.
Two days after Luqman's death, several thousand Greeks and immigrants ranging from anti-Fascist groups to football fans gathered to protest racism and to condemn the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
While human rights activists worry that assaults on immigrants are escalating and could become a flashpoint for more violence, the government announced it is forming a special anti-racist police unit.
Police also established 70 special offices throughout Greece for legal immigrants to report racist incidents and set up a hotline.
Last month, the police arrested a 20-year-old Greek man on suspicion of attempted murder, arson and robbery. The man is allegedly belongs to a gang of racists that mounted attacks on Pakistani immigrants in Athens last year.
These are encouraging signs, according to Alex Sakellariou, a sociologist at Panteion University in Athens.
"The most dangerous outcome will be if [racist] ideology becomes dominant within Greek society. Ideas are very close to acts, and racist ideology is not far from racist attacks," Sakellariou told SETimes.
Critics have long accused the Greek government of not acting on the growing number of violent assaults carried out mostly by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, a party that holds 18 seats in parliament and whose popularity is soaring.
Golden Dawn and other extremist organisations blame immigrants for a list of social ailments, but for an increase in crime in particular.
The fatal attack on Luqman fits the documented pattern of violent intolerance in Greece, and is another reminder of the need for robust action to counter it, according to Judith Sunderland, senior western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"It is good to see swift action in this case. We will be monitoring the investigation and certainly hope racist motivation is taken into account at the earliest possible stage," Sunderland told SETimes.
Many in the Pakistani community in Greece are encouraged by the government move, but mistrust still runs deep.
"We feel very deep pain," Javed Aslam, president of the Pakistani Community of Greece, told SETimes.