Greek police arrest far-right party leader

Greek police have arrested the leader of the Greek far-right Golden Dawn party on charges of forming "a criminal organisation", as well as 15 other members of his party, police say. Nikos Mihaloliakos, the party's secretary-general, was arrested along with Ilias Kassidiaris, the party's spokesperson, two other members of parliament and other party members, police said on Saturday. They are due to appear in court this weekend to be formally charged.

Arrests come amid anger over the murder on September 18 of anti-racist musician, Pavlos Fyssas [AP] The police counterterrorism unit is currently looking for the deputies, and more warrants are expected. The arrests come 11 days after the killing of a left-wing activist rapper by an alleged Golden Dawn member.

"It remains now to be seen, whether once the evidence is laid out, that this organisation as a political party and paramilitary organisation has indeed been culpable of ordering either this killing or other acts of violence from the top down," reported Al Jazeera's John Psaropoulos from Athens. The party has denied any links to the killing and Mihaloliakos has warned the party could pull its 18 lawmakers from parliament if the crackdown does not stop. Golden Dawn expressed outrage at the arrests in a text message to journalists. "We call upon everyone to support our moral and just struggle against the corrupt system! Everyone come to our offices!" it said. A later text message called for supporters to head to police headquarters "with calm and order". A small group of about 30 people initially gathered, standing on the sidewalk across the street from the building.

'Democracy can protect itself' Saturday's developments came a day after that threat, a move that would prompt by-elections in the recession-hit country where the government is struggling to implement painful public sector reforms in return for international bailout funds.

A formerly marginal organisation with neo-Nazi roots, Golden Dawn entered the Greek Parliament for the first time in May 2012, capitalising on Greece's deep financial crisis, rising crime and anti-immigrant sentiment. "The political implications are that first of all Golden Dawn now stands the first real chance since they entered parliament in June last year of actually being stricken down as a political force through legal means," said our correspondent.

Despite the arrests, the party's lawmakers retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of Parliament's 300 seats, after winning nearly seven percent of the vote in general elections last year. A government spokesman refused to comment on the details of Saturday's operation. "Democracy can protect itself.

Justice will do its job,'' government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told reporters. It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting members of the Greek Parliament have been arrested. Golden Dawn's members and supporters have frequently been suspected of carrying out violent attacks, mainly against immigrants. Despite its reputation for violence, the party had enjoyed growing popularity as poverty has risen in Greece.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies