Golden Dawn members before Greek court

Tuesday 01 October 2013 20.38
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Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris is escorted by anti-terror police into court
Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris is escorted by anti-terror police into court
Ilias Panagiotaros is led into court to face charges of belonging to a criminal gang
Ilias Panagiotaros is led into court to face charges of belonging to a criminal gang

Four members of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party have appeared in court on charges of belonging to a criminal group after the killing of an anti-racism rapper by a party supporter.

Ilias Panagiotaros, Ilias Kasidiaris, Nikos Michos and Yannis Lagos were arrested on Saturday alongside party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and dozens more Golden Dawn members.

The crackdown on Greece's third most popular party, whose appeal has so far appeared immune to accusations of brutality, is the biggest threat to Golden Dawn since it entered parliament last year.

The party has drawn on anger over the country's debt crisis, financial cutbacks, high unemployment and corruption.

The party members have been charged officially on evidence linking the party with a string of attacks, including the stabbing of rapper Pavlos Fissas on 17 September and the killing of an immigrant this year.

The court magistrate will decide if the suspects will be kept in detention pending trial.

Mr Mihaloliakos and his deputy leader Christos Pappas are expected to appear before the magistrate this week.

The killing of Mr Fissas - who bled to death after beingstabbed twice in the heart and chest in what prosecutors said was a premeditated attack - has prompted protests across Greece, a shake-up of the police and a broad investigation of the party.

The arrests are the most significant mass round-up of politicians since a military coup in 1967.

The four MPs deny the charges and say the crackdown is politically motivated.

Police have so far found unlicensed weapons, Nazi flags and portraits of Adolf Hitler during searches of the homes of arrested party members.

But Golden Dawn, whose black-and-red emblem resembles a swastika, rejects the neo-Nazi label.

It has strongly denied involvement in the killing and links to violent attacks on immigrants.

The party says its members are victims of a conspiracy and political persecution, and called for protests outside the court in solidarity with its detained members.