Greek police arrested Nikolaos Michaloliakos, leader of the nationalist Golden Dawn party, as part of an investigation into alleged criminal activity by the political movement.
Fellow Golden Dawn lawmakers Ilias Kasidiaris, Yannis Lagos, Ilias Panagiotaros, Yiorgos Germenis as well as 13 other party officials were also arrested today and taken to police headquarters in Athens, where they are waiting to appear before an investigating judge, said a police spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified in line with department policy. Arrest warrants have been issued for 20 other party members, she said.
The arrests follow comments from Michaloliakos Sept. 26, when he threatened to withdraw his lawmakers from parliament given actions against his party. Such a move may spark a series of by-elections, creating possible political instability. There have been only two by-elections in Greece since 1974 because parties can retain control of the seats of lawmakers who resign from parliament or are forced out by a court. The elections can take place if a party decides not to hold onto the seats, effectively withdrawing from parliamentary politics.
Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told reporters that Prime Minister Antonis Samaras discussed the crackdown on Golden Dawn with officials from the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund at a meeting earlier today in Athens.
“There is no risk of political instability, the troika didn’t raise the issue of early elections and there is no climate of concern,” Stournaras said.
Golden Dawn called on its supporters to gather outside the police headquarters to protest “an illegal and unprecedented decision,” according to a statement on the party’s website.
Authorities have stepped up pressure on the movement since the death of a 34-year-old man, described by local media as an anti-fascist rapper. Police said a Golden Dawn supporter confessed to the Sept. 18 killing, which was followed by police raids on the group’s offices and a judicial probe into whether the party can be banned or characterized as a criminal gang to limit its activities.
The government will submit a draft law to parliament on Sept. 30 that aims to suspend state funding of parties whose lawmakers or administrative officials have been prosecuted for criminal acts, the Public Order Ministry in Athens said today in an e-mailed statement.
“Democracy has institutions to protect itself and justice has the means to defend itself and is doing its job,” Simos Kedikoglou, a government spokesman, said in comments televised live on Skai TV.
Golden Dawn, which denied any involvement in the Sept. 18 killing, has 18 lawmakers in Greece’s 300-seat parliament. Polls suggest that while backing for the anti-immigrant political movement has fallen since the killing, it is still the country’s third-most-popular party. Voter support for the group fell to 6.7 percent from 10.8 percent in June, an Alco poll published today showed.
The party, which includes officials who have expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, got 7 percent of the vote in the June 2012 elections, tapping into a vein of protest and anger against record unemployment that has accompanied a recession now in its sixth year.