A policeman rides his motorcycle in front of Golden Dawn and nationalist graffities on a highway in the Pelloponese peninsula, southern Greece, on September 29, 2013.AFP
Christos Pappas, lawmaker of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party, is escorted by masked police officers to the prosecutor's office from the police headquarters in Athens on September 29, 2013.AFP
Athens (AFP) – The head of Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and four fellow lawmakers were facing charges of belonging to a criminal organisation Sunday, as police arrested a sixth deputy from the far-right group.
Party founder Nikos Michaloliakos and four other Golden Dawn members of parliament were held overnight after they were arrested in dawn raids Saturday amid high tensions in Greece following the murder of a leftist musician allegedly stabbed to death by a party activist.
Police said a sixth lawmaker, Christos Papas, a close aide to the party leader, turned himself in to police headquarters in Athens on Sunday. His arrest brings to 21 the number of people detained in the police crackdown on suspected neo-Nazis.
The suspects, who remain in detention, will go before judges on Tuesday and Wednesday, who will ultimately decide on whether to press charges, a judicial source said.
The Golden Dawn party members are under judicial investigation facing likely charges of belonging to a criminal organisation, a court source said. Michaloliakos faces an additional charge of leading a criminal group.
The arrests came after Golden Dawn threatened to pull its lawmakers out of parliament, a move that could trigger a political crisis in the recession-hit country.
The serious nature of the case could lead to discussion in parliament to strip the deputies of their parliamentary immunity.
Golden Dawn was under mounting pressure after a self-confessed neo-Nazi was arrested over the fatal stabbing of popular hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas, 34, on September 18, a killing that sparked nationwide protests.
The police sweep came after Greece's supreme court, which has been charged with investigating the far-right group, issued arrest warrants for some 30 people, including two policemen suspected of neo-Nazi links.
It also came as Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras heads to Washington for meetings Tuesday with key creditor the International Monetary Fund.
"This is not just a message for internal use, to show that it puts a halt to violence, this is a message directed outwards, to Europe and others," said political analyst Ilias Nikolakopoulos.
Michaloliakos, who founded Golden Dawn in 1980, has threatened to pull the group's 18 deputies out of parliament, a move that would prompt by-elections in 15 regions around the country.
By-elections could hurt Samaras's coalition government, which has a slim majority of 155 MPs, and could cast into doubt Greece's ability to fulfil its obligations to creditors on multi-billion-euro (dollar) bailouts.
Formerly on the fringe of Greek politics, Golden Dawn rocketed to popularity by tapping into widespread anger over unpopular reforms in a country that is currently slogging through its sixth year of recession as well as anti-immigrant sentiments.
The party, whose leader has denied the Holocaust, has sent black-clad squads to smash market stalls owned by migrants, held torch-lit rallies lambasting political opponents as "traitors" and "thieves", and organised food donations exclusively for ethnic Greeks.
It has also been blamed for a series of brutal attacks on migrants and political opponents, though it strenuously denies any responsibility and claims to be the victim of slander.
A new poll published in the weekly Real News showed support for Golden Dawn has fallen to 6.8 percent among potential voters from 9.1 percent in June, the survey conducted from Tuesday to Thursday -- before the arrests -- showed.