Athens (AFP) – The leader of Greece’s Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party appeared in court Wednesday, hours after four of his lawmakers were charged with belonging to a criminal organization in a crackdown following an anti-fascist musician’s murder.
Nikos Michaloliakos arrived in court shortly before 19:30 local time (1630 GMT) to offer his testimony, as Greek authorities move to dismantle the group after the shock murder of hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas on September 18.
Carrying Greek flags and shouting the organisation’s chant “Blood, honor, Golden Dawn,” some 100 Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside the court, according to an AFP journalist on the scene.
As Michaloliakos — a 56-year-old mathematician and former disciple of Greek dictator George Papadopoulos — entered the building, his supporters applauded.
Earlier in the day four party deputies were charged, in the first ever indictment against neo-Nazi MPs in Greece.
Three were conditionally released, a move seen as surprising given the gravity of the charges, but justice officials later stressed that release did not mean acquittal.
The three freed lawmakers — party spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panagiotaros — came out in a combative mood, insulting and threatening reporters outside the Athens court complex.
“Only with bullets can you stop us,” hissed Michos.
Kassidiaris, who is also to stand trial for hitting a female lawmaker on television, slapped aside a camera and shoved another reporter to the ground.
Panagiotaros called journalists “losers” and “little slaves.”
Government officials stressed the political implications of the judicial action against the MPs.
“What is politically important is that Golden Dawn is characterised as a criminal organization,” the ruling party’s parliament spokesman Makis Voridis told the station.
But Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos warned: “My recommendation to everyone is not to rush. We do not have any conclusive judicial ruling (yet).”
“Criminal charges have been filed… this is just the first phase,” Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis told Skai T.V.
Golden Dawn was the country’s third most popular party until Fyssas’ murder sparked nationwide protests and a government crackdown on the group long accused of attacking immigrants, charges that it denies.
Kassidiaris, Michos, Panagiotaros and a fourth MP, Yiannis Lagos, were all charged but only Lagos was placed in pre-trial detention, as police reportedly found he had spoken to members of a gang that ambushed Fyssas on the night of his murder.
Kassidiaris was ordered to pay 50,000 euros ($68,000) bail, and all three freed lawmakers were banned from leaving the country, the source said.