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Greek report
by Euro Reporter
2013-09-30 11:34:24
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Greece arrests senior members of far-right party

Moving to drain power from one of the most violent rightist organizations in Europe, the Greek government conducted an extraordinary crackdown on the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party on Saturday, arresting 5 members of Parliament, including the leader of the group, and at least 15 other people. A search was under way for another lawmaker and at least 10 more party members. It is the first time that the leader of a political party and members of Parliament have been arrested in Greece since the fall of a military junta in 1974. Less than two weeks ago, the murder of an anti-fascist Greek singer, the rapper Pavlos Fyssas, 34, ignited uproar throughout Greece after the suspect claimed to be a Golden Dawn supporter. The public outcry over the killing put substantial pressure on the government to move ahead with an investigation of the party.

On Saturday, Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn’s leader and a Member of Parliament, was charged with forming a criminal organization. With a defiant expression on his face, Mr. Michaloliakos raised his cuffed hands as he was escorted by police officers. Another arrested lawmaker, Ilias P. Kasidiaris, shouted as he was led away: “Nothing will bend us! Long live Greece!” Other arrests followed. The police had not yet released details of the criminal charges, but they include murder, attempted murder and blackmail, according to a court official. The party has denied any role in the killing, and the police had not said what evidence they have linking the arrested party members to specific crimes. Since 2012, when it gained seats in Parliament, Golden Dawn has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against immigrants. In April, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner described it as “a neo-Nazi and violent political party” and urged that it be banned under international human rights treaties, but the arrest of elected lawmakers is a rare step for any European democracy. The move may curb Golden Dawn’s influence, at least for now, especially in Parliament, where the party holds 18 seats after elections last year during a volatile moment when Greece was on the precipice of exiting the euro zone.

Nonetheless, the disenchantment stoked by the economic crisis that helped propel Golden Dawn’s rise is unlikely to fade anytime soon. “As the country is mired in its worst economic crisis in modern history, support for extremist and antiestablishment parties is likely to remain high in the coming years, regardless of the future of Golden Dawn as a political party,” the geopolitical intelligence, economic and political firm Stratfor said in an analysis.Human rights groups say Golden Dawn, whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies and meetings, has systematically terrorized immigrants, while the police have looked the other way. The aggressive acts include the beating of immigrants with clubs and shields bearing swastikalike symbols or with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag. Golden Dawn was established in 1987, and its influence has grown in recent years in tandem with the country’s economic hardship. Offering promises to restore jobs and order, the party’s members also espouse nationalistic and xenophobic stances, appealing to marginalized Greeks in areas populated by a rising number of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa. Those arrested early Saturday also included the lawmakers Nikos Michos, Ilias Panagiotaros and Yiannis Lagos, and also Giorgos Patelis, the leader of the party’s local chapter in Nikaia, a gritty Athens suburb that is one of Golden Dawn’s biggest strongholds, and 12 other party officials.

The immunity usually enjoyed by Greek members of Parliament is automatically lifted in the case of felonies. For lesser charges, a vote has to be held in Parliament. In addition, two police officers connected with the organization were caught up in the sweep, a sign that a parallel crackdown is intensifying against parts of the police, long thought to have been infiltrated by members or sympathizers of the group. The police are still seeking Christos Pappas, the sixth Golden Dawn lawmaker for whom an arrest warrant has been issued and the party’s second-in-command. A court official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that a report by the Greek prosecutor charged that the party had recruited young Greeks for its hit squads, in a manner similar to the Nazis. The report claims that the party also had links to organized crime groups, particularly in Korydallos, southwest of Athens, close to the spot where the rapper, Mr. Fyssas, was killed on Sept. 18. The police seized two handguns and a hunting rifle from the home of Mr. Michaloliakos, the party leader, on Saturday, saying he did not have licenses for them.

“It’s a big deal that the chief of the political party got arrested; most people are glad that something was finally done,” said Aris Papaspyrou, 32, an Athens-based lawyer. “But I’m not sure this will be the end, because we’ve seen in history something like this happen with Hitler and Nazi Germany,” Mr. Papaspyrou added. “They took him to jail, but when he came out he created the party that won the election and went on to become prime minister. I hope this will not come back as a boomerang for us.” As Mr. Michaloliakos, the party leader, and four of the other lawmakers were escorted from the Athens police headquarters in handcuffs, flanked by masked counterterrorism officers, and ushered into police vehicles for their transfer to the Athens court complex, about 300 Golden Dawn supporters gathered in front of the station before being dispersed by the police.  The arrests are part of a rapidly widening campaign by the government to clamp down on what it says is a rising tide of extremism in Greece, fuelled by the economic crisis. In addition, the government opened an investigation last week into whether sympathizers or members of the group had infiltrated Greece’s police forces and the armed forces.

The government replaced seven senior police officials to ensure that the investigation would take place with “absolute objectivity.” Two other police officials stepped down. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who leads the right-leaning New Democracy Party, has said he is determined to curb the influence of Golden Dawn, a group whose standing climbed in opinion polls in the past year. Since the murder a week and a half ago of Mr. Fyssas, whose lyrics protested the rise of neo-fascism in the country, Golden Dawn’s standing in polls has declined. But it is still the third most popular party in Greece, behind New Democracy and Syriza, the leftist party led by a political maverick, Alexis Tsipras. Last week, as protests against the party intensified, Mr. Michaloliakos suggested that all 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers might resign from Parliament en masse, a move that could force a series of elections in areas where the party now holds seats. A government spokesman said such a move would not force a general election. But the prospect of new elections for those seats could undermine political stability in Greece at a time when Mr. Samaras is negotiating with creditors for continued financial aid as part of two multibillion-dollar bailouts Greece has already received — even as speculation about the possible need for a third bailout hangs over the talks.


IMF and EU mission to Greece takes breather after progress

Greece's international lenders called a temporary halt to their latest mission to Athens on Sunday, saying they had made good progress and expected to resume talks with the government soon. The pause in talks between the two sides had already been flagged at the end of the first week of work by the inspectors, who are seeking to determine the size of a third bailout for Greece and what Athens will have to do for it.

"To allow completion of technical work, policy discussions in Athens will pause, and are expected to resume in the coming weeks. In the meantime, contacts will continue between staff and the Greek authorities," the European Union, IMF and European Central Bank said in a joint statement. In a review that is expected to stretch at least until the end of October, the inspectors will take stock of Greek reforms and update their growth and budget forecasts. Two senior officials from the Greek finance ministry told Reuters this week that the two sides have agreed on a forecast that predicts the economy will shrink by 4 percent this year, less than previously projected, which may give Athens more leeway as it, seeks to meet targets under the existing bailout.


Greece sends message to doubters with arrest of neo-Nazi

With the arrest of a neo-Nazi leader on Saturday, the Greek government is sending a message of strength despite longstanding financial turmoil to many at home and abroad, analysts claim. "This is not just a message for internal use, to show that it puts a halt to violence, this is a message directed outwards, to Europe and others," said political analyst Ilias Nikolakopoulos. Police swooped on the neo-Nazi party chief Nikos Michaloliakos and his deputies 10 days after the murder of an anti-fascist musician, allegedly by a member of the Golden Dawn party, an act that shocked Greece and made headlines around the world. The Greek government coalition has been repeatedly accused of being too lenient with the neo-Nazis, but the arrests show its ability to act on a social issue even at a time of protracted economic crisis.

The arrests come just as Greece once again faces close scrutiny by European leaders and international bankers. The IMF is part of the so-called "troika", alongside the European Union and the European Central Bank that will examine Greece's latest accounts. It is expected that this latest audit will result in the release of a new tranche of one billion Euros ($1.3 billion) to Athens. In a Saturday meeting with members of the troika, Samaras and his ministers were said to have described in detail the latest developments concerning Golden Dawn. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras gave assurances that Greece's democracy is strong enough to address issues concerning Golden Dawn.

"The government took the opportunity, with the murder of musician, to enforce laws that existed but were (previously) not implemented," said Manos Papazoglou, a political scientist at the University of Peloponnese. "This is a message for Greece and for the whole world, to say that Greece is a democratic country, and it does not accept that which defies democracy." Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn has skyrocketed to popularity by tapping into widespread anger over unpopular reforms in a country that is currently slogging through its sixth year of recession. But there was widespread outrage following the murder of the anti-fascist rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, 34, who was stabbed to death on September 18 in a suburb near Athens.  "This incident is shocking and unacceptable, especially in a country of the European Union," said the president of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda.


Greece says no risk of political instability after Golden Dawn arrests

Greece's finance minister played down the risk of political instability after police arrested the leader of the far-right Golden Dawn party, two of its lawmakers and party members on Saturday.

"There is no risk of destabilization," Yannis Stournaras told reporters after a meeting in which Prime Minister Antonis Samaras briefed Greece's European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders on the crackdown against the party.


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