Golden Dawn's leader and four other MPs are arrested by police, marking the first time since 1974 that sitting MPs were charged by Greek authorities.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 30/09/2013
Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappas is escorted by masked police officers in Athens after surrendering to authorities on September 29th. [AFP]
Fearing a social explosion in the wake of the murder of an anti-fascist rapper for which a member of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party was arrested, Greece's government is moving to clamp controls on the extremists.
The stabbing death of activist and musician Pavlos Fyssas, 34, in a fight where he and his friends were attacked by as many as 40 Golden Dawn members, sparked outrage and angry protests across the country.
Giorgos Roupakias, 45, was charged with Fyssas's death. Although Golden Dawn said he had only a loose connection to the party that has 18 seats in Parliament and was a rising force until the killing, its popularity plunged 2.5 percent overnight.
Led by counterterrorist units, authorities conducted an unprecedented sweep of Golden Dawn members on Saturday (September 28th), arresting leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and four other MP's from the party. The next day the No. 2 man in the organisation and another MP, Christos Pappas turned himself in.
Authorities said they, and as many as 29 other party members, would be charged with operating a criminal gang as the government moved to break up Golden Dawn by legal means, including to cut off its annual taxpayer funding.
The arrest marked the first time since 1974 that sitting members of a Greek Parliament have been arrested, and came just days after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pledged that party's 15-month rampage of violent attacks against immigrants, Communists and others would be stopped.
Ioannis Michaletos, of the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis, said that Samaras was forced into action by the murder and political and security reasons.
"The popularity of the government was decreasing while Golden Dawn's was increasing, especially with upcoming municipal elections. They would have been a major political force if they weren't stopped and the murder was the catalyst that kicked the balance for a very strong stance,” he told SETimes.
"Once these guys were arrested, nobody came to their rescue. The masses of their supporters were nowhere to be seen. They were just a group that became populists because of the situation in the economy," he added.
Golden Dawn capitalised on the country's economic crisis and unpopular austerity measures to win popular support. Its openly anti-immigrant platform also won over voters angry over rising crime in the crisis.
The government is also investigating the organisation's alleged ties with former military officials and the police. Officials want to know if party members are receiving combat training amid reports it had a 3,000-member paramilitary force aimed at destabilising the government.
Five senior police officers were removed from duty and two quit after it was reported they failed to act against Golden Dawn members after the killing, although the police have since responded with a round-up of more suspects.
Protesters in Athens carry a banner featuring a picture of the murdered anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas, and reading: "Pavlos lives, crack the fascists." [AFP]
The police strongly deny any ties between their ranks and Golden Dawn. "The aim of the Greek police is for there to be no shadow over the force," police spokesman Christos Parthenis said.
But Christos Fotopoulos, the head of the Federation of Greek Police Officers (POASY), told SKAI TV that, "During the last three years, there were many cases during which our colleagues displayed tolerance toward outbreaks of violence by members of Golden Dawn."
While Michaletos said the numbers of Golden Dawn members being readied to fight is exaggerated, he said, "They do have hundreds of men trained in paramilitary fashion." But, he quickly added: "I don't think they will launch any offensive against the Greek state institutions."
The killing reignited long-standing political enmity in Greece between the left and right, with bitter memories back to the Civil War during and following World War II.
Effi Lambropoulou, a criminology professor at Panteion University in Athens, said trying to control Golden Dawn won't be easy because of its standing as the country's third most popular party.
"Golden Dawn is a parliamentary party voted by half a million people," she told SETimes while noting: "A party can be illegalised when its activities put the government in danger."
Michaletos said the government will have to find a way to put a stranglehold on Golden Dawn without appearing to be heavy-handed. "Otherwise, a circle of violence and reprisals between all far and left right fringe groups will commence and the whole society will be affected negatively," he said.
He added: "Greece is in a poor shape and if that does not change Golden Dawn will benefit from poverty and unemployment."
(Kathimerini, 25/09/13, 24/09/13, 22/092/13 20/09/13, 19/09/13; New York Times, 24/09/13)
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