ATHENS – With half its 18 Members of Parliament facing charges of running a criminal gang – included jailed leader Nikos Michaloliakos – the far-right extremist Golden Dawn party is asking its supporters to come to a planned protest rally on Nov. 30.
Michaloliakos and two other lawmakers remain in detention and party officials said they want to press for their release, complaining the charges are politically motivated, driven by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras,’ coalition government of his New Democracy Conservatives and their partner, the PASOK Socialists, to thwart Golden Dawn’s rising popularity.
The Golden Dawn leaders were among two dozen arrested in the wake of the murder of a 34-year-old anti-fascist hip-hop artist in August which set off protest rallies across the country against the party.
That led Samaras to direct its breakup including trying to choke off state subsidies amid complaints Golden Dawn had planned beatings of immigrants and others of its perceived enemies and was trying to bring down the government.
Golden Dawn rose from 0.29 percent of the vote in 2009 to take 6.97 percent in 2012 to enter Parliament and had seen its support nearly double since then, backed by its opposition to austerity measures imposed by the government on orders of international lenders.
The planned rally came as three more of the party MPs, Giorgos Germenis, Panayiotis Iliopoulos and Stathis Boukouras, appeared before magistrates on Nov. 25. They were given until Dec. 7 to prepare their defense. Germenis earlier this year tried to assault Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis and was said to have tried to pull a gun on him.
All the Golden Dawn MPs have denied any wrongdoing. Two of its members were killed last month by a gunman who got off a motorcycle and shot them before fleeing. Police said they believe it was the work of a new terrorist gang, which said it was a revenge execution.
Hoping to garner support for the release of its hierarchy, the party has asked supporters to come to the protest rally to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s actions. Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris said the Neo-Nazi group plans to gather in Syntagma Square at 7 p.m. before marching toward the Justice Ministry.
This is the first time the party, whose backing fell sharply after the arrests, has tried to galvanize its supporters since. The crackdown elicited only wan protests.