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Greek neo-Nazi leader to appear in court

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The leader of Greece's Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by masked police officers in Athens, on September 28, 2013AFP/File

The leader of Greece's Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party will appear in court Wednesday to be charged with belonging to a criminal organisation, as authorities move to dismantle the group after the murder of an anti-fascist musician.

Golden Dawn was the country's third most popular party until the murder of anti-fascist hip-hop musician Pavlos Fyssas on September 18 sparked nationwide protests and a government crackdown on the group long accused of attacking immigrants, charges that it denies.

Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos, a 56-year-old mathematician and former disciple of Greek dictator George Papadopoulos, is scheduled to appear in court late Wednesday.

Four Golden Dawn lawmakers -- Ilias Kasidiaris, Yiannis Lagos, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panagiotaros -- were indicted early Wednesday on the same charge of belonging to a criminal organisation.

They are among some two dozen people including six of Golden Dawn's lawmakers, lower-ranking party members and three police officers who will face charges ranging from attempted and voluntary homicide to illegal arms possession and belonging to a criminal organisation.

If convicted, the defendants face sentences of at least 10 years in prison.

Golden Dawn, once a fringe party, rode a wave of public discontent during last year's elections over unchecked immigration and austerity policies in the recession-hit country to enter parliament for the first time.

Magistrates have compiled a long dossier on the group, whose leading cadres the conservative-led government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had hoped to put behind bars.

Lagos was placed in pre-trial detention, but the remaining three lawmakers were conditionally released, a judicial source said.

Kassidiaris was forced to pay 50,000 euros ($68,000) in bail, and all three lawmakers who were released pending their trial were forbidden from leaving the country, the source said.

An investigation has revealed a series of "criminal acts" by the group, culminating in the alleged murder of Fyssas by a self-confessed neo-Nazi, according to a government report.

The investigation uncovered close ties between the party and Greek police, something rights and migrant groups had warned about for years.

Early on Wednesday, police arrested a former police station chief in an Athens immigrant district where Golden Dawn began systematic attacks on migrants some four years ago.

Emergency legislation has been submitted to parliament to stop the institutional flow of state funds to the party that has 18 deputies in the 300-member chamber.

Greece's main opposition party Syriza has accused Samaras of dragging his feet in prosecuting Golden Dawn, in order to avoid alienating right-wing hardliners within his own conservative party.

Samaras' party on Tuesday kicked out one of its members, lawyer Pavlos Sarakis, after he agreed to defend Golden Dawn's Kasidiaris.