Greece Holds Golden Dawn Leader in Custody

ATHENS—Greek magistrates on Thursday ordered the head and deputy head of the country's far-right Golden Dawn party to remain in jail pending trial following marathon interrogations into alleged criminal activities of the group.

Police had arrested Nikos Michaloliakos, his deputy Christos Pappas, who is also a member of parliament, and several other party members over the weekend on charges of belonging to a criminal organization, after a self-described party member was connected to the recent killing of a left-wing rap artist.

Mr. Michaloliakos and Mr. Pappas have denied the charges. Golden Dawn has repeatedly denied any role in the killing and says it doesn't condone violence.

The party leader's wife Eleni Zaroulia, who is also a member of parliament, and his daughter had been waiting for him outside the court complex, together with some other lawmakers, chanting the party's slogan of "blood, honor, Golden Dawn."

The party, which has 18 seats in parliament, called the prosecutors' decision unfair and unconstitutional.

"Golden Dawn remains strong, united and continues its legitimate political struggle against a corrupted regime, enslaved to foreigners," the party said on its website.

Of the other Golden Dawn members arrested last weekend, prosecutors have ordered Yannis Lagos held in jail pending trial. Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris was released on bail of €50,000 ($68,000) and is subject to travel restrictions, while Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos were released without bail but also restricted from leaving the country.

The four, all members of parliament, have denied the charges against them of belonging to a criminal organization.

Two other party members have been ordered held in custody pending trial, including a police officer.

Mr. Michaloliakos and Mr. Lagos were transferred Thursday afternoon to a maximum-security prison, where photographers and cameramen scrambled to get a shot of the first party leader in Greece to be arrested since the fall of the country's military junta in 1974.

Mr. Pappas was expected to be transferred later.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said on a television morning show that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was surprised when he first heard the prosecutors' decision to release the lawmakers, but added that the case is still at an early stage.

The crackdown is seen as an effort by the Greek government to effectively outlaw the far-right party, which is alleged by police to be connected to a series of violent incidents, including the killing this month of the rap artist, Pavlos Fyssas.

The party first entered parliament after elections in June 2012 and had been steadily gaining in support, buoyed by Greece's protracted economic crisis and soaring unemployment. It was the third-most popular party in the country, behind the governing New Democracy party and the left-wing opposition Syriza party.

But over the past week, public opinion polls have shown support for the party declining, with only 6 to 7% of voters saying they would vote for Golden Dawn, compared with 8 to 12% before.

Many Greeks identify Golden Dawn as neo-Nazi based on its rhetoric and swastika-like emblem, although the party rejects that label.

Of the 32 warrants issued for Golden Dawn officials and party members, 23 people have been arrested, including two police officers, a police official said.

In addition, a former police station chief was arrested Wednesday after authorities say an internal affairs investigation revealed evidence of his involvement in a series of illegal activities—such as gun trafficking and drug abuse—as well as links with the far-right party.

Meanwhile, Public Order Minister, Nikos Dendias has moved to overhaul the police force, which has been accused by immigrant and left-wing groups of turning a blind eye to Golden Dawn's activities.

Seven senior police officials have been replaced or transferred from their positions in the last few days for what Mr. Dendias said was their failure to take a tough-enough line against the political group.

"Golden Dawn has footholds widely in Greek society, even in the police," former Justice Minister Antonis Roupakiotis told reporters Thursday. "So we have to succeed in disbanding Golden Dawn on all levels."

Source: The Wall Street Journal


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