ATHENS — Greek police officials said Tuesday they are planning to deploy about 2,000 officers around Athens as the leadership of the extreme right group Golden Dawn faces a landmark criminal trial verdict.
Eighteen former lawmakers from the party founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization are among 69 defendants who have been on trial for the past five years. The verdict is expected Wednesday.
Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and other former parliament members face at least 10 years in prison if found guilty on charges of membership in a criminal organization. Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates, face convictions on charges that range from murder to perjury — most linked to a spate of violent attacks in 2013 that included the fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas and attacks on immigrants and left-wing activists.
Golden Dawn grew from a minor organization to the third-largest political party in Greece's parliament during a major financial crisis that started in 2009 and lasted nearly a decade, causing mass unemployment and poverty.
Though distancing itself from its pro-Nazi past while in parliament between 2012 and 2019, it maintained links with white supremacist groups in Europe and the United States.
In Athens, police are being deployed as a number of rallies against the group are planned for when the session begins Wednesday at a high court located a few hundred meters from the city's police headquarters in a central area of the capital.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Golden Dawn operated as a paramilitary group, with orders handed down from the party leadership to neighborhood organizations, and onto assault groups which carried out frequent attacks on migrants that often led to serious injury.
Attacks included raids on immigrants' homes, street assaults and gangs boarding public buses to target dark-skinned passengers.
The human rights group Amnesty International, which took part in and helped organize a network to record racist violence in Greece, said Wednesday's verdict would boost the efforts of those trying to prosecute hate crimes.
"The accusations against the leaders and members of Golden Dawn, including the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, expose a fissure that exists not just within Greece but across Europe and beyond," said Nils Muiznieks, Europe director at Amnesty.
"The impact of this verdict, in what is an emblematic trial of an extreme far-right party with an aggressive anti-migrant and anti-human rights stance, will be felt far beyond Greece's borders."
Golden Dawn denies any direct link to the attacks and described the trial and charges brought against the party's leadership as an "unprecedented conspiracy" that was aimed at cutting short its rise in popularity.
"Unfortunately for (our adversaries), the court's decision tomorrow is based on the criminal case and not a political one," Golden Dawn said Tuesday.
"All supporters await an acquittal tomorrow, a decision that will trigger an even more strident nationalist campaign to take our country back."
Labor unions, migrant associations, groups representing gay, lesbian and transgender people, and left-wing political parties have all announced their intention to attend rallies Wednesday. ___ Follow Gatopoulos at https://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos