Golden Dawn head to appear in court

The leader of Greece’s embattled far-right Golden Dawn party is to appear in court on Wednesday to outline his defence against charges of organising a criminal group.

Nikos Mihaloliakos was one of six MPs arrested over the weekend in an unprecedented police operation against the party.

It came amid intense public anger over the murder of an anti-racist musician.

Four MPs have already made preliminary court appearances.

In all, 22 people have been detained following the 18 September murder of Pavlos Fyssas.

A man held for the stabbing told police he was a Golden Dawn supporter, though the party strongly denies any link.

Chanting supporters
Mr Mihaloliakos faces charges including murder, assault and money-laundering.

According to Greek law, he will set out a preliminary defence argument when he appears before an investigative judge on Wednesday.

The judge will then decide – on the basis of the charges and the defence statement – whether to grant bail or remand Mr Mihaloliakos in custody pending his full trial, which the authorities are keen to conclude swiftly.

The four MPs – Ilias Panagiotaros, party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, Yannis Lagos and Nikos Michos – appeared in court on Tuesday. Mr Mihaloliakos’s deputy, Christos Pappas, is set to appear in the coming days.

The BBC’s Mark Lowen on tight security at Athens court where far right Golden Dawn members appeared on Tuesday
Any MPs finally convicted would lose their seats in parliament, prompting by-elections and – the government hopes – leading to the destruction of Greece’s neo-Nazi party, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen, in Athens.

During Tuesday’s court appearances, there was a heavy presence of riot police – a reminder that despite falling popularity in the opinion polls, the party still commands significant support, our correspondent says.

Supporters outside court chanted slogans, including “You are heroes!”

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Golden Dawn – key dates

George Roupakias arrested, 21 Sept
Began in 1980 but more formally established in 1985
Party banner is a Greek decorative border, often compared with Nazi insignia
In 1996 elections, won just 4,487 votes – 0.07%. European election performance in 2004 was 0.17%, in 2009 0.46%
Nikolaos Michaloliakos wins place on Athens Municipal Council in 2010 with 5.29%
Breakthrough in May 2012 election with 441,018 votes and 21 deputies, cut to 18 MPs in June re-run
June 2012 – Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris throws water and slaps rival politician on TV
Sept 2013 – George Roupakias (above), self-proclaimed supporter, arrested for murder of musician Pavlos Fyssas
Sept 2013 – Leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos and other party members arrested
Details from witness testimony have been emerging about the way in which the party operated.

Nazi paraphernalia
The testimony speaks of a strict hierarchical structure – or “‘Fuehrer principle” as the indictment calls it – as well as assault squads and military-style training, our correspondent says.

Searches of the homes of some MPs have found Nazi paraphernalia as well as unlicensed weapons, ammunition and bundles of cash.

The crackdown has was sparked by outrage at the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, 34, whose stage name was Killah P.

George Roupakias, 45, who said he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, was arrested in connection with the killing.

On Friday, Golden Dawn – which won nearly 7% of the vote in 2012 elections – threatened to pull its 18 MPs out of the 300-strong parliament.

The governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which has 155 seats, would then face by-elections.

Speaking on a visit to the US on Monday, Mr Samaras vowed to eradicate the “shame of neo-Nazism”.

In recent months, Golden Dawn has been accused of perpetrating attacks on migrants and political opponents.

Golden Dawn officially denies being a neo-Nazi movement, despite its swastika-like insignia.