By George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS — The leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party was sent to jail pending trial on criminal charges on Thursday (03/10/2013) in a boost to a government campaign to wipe out what it calls "a neo-Nazi criminal gang".
Nikolaos Mihaloliakos is the first elected party chief in Greece to be sent to jail since a military coup in 1967. The grey-haired, bespectacled leader has watched support for his party wane after one of its supporters killed a popular rapper.
Stunned by a court decision to free three other senior Golden Dawn lawmakers on Wednesday, the government hailed Thursday’s verdict as "the most dynamic confrontation of a neo-Nazi criminal gang in European, and possibly, world history".
"In Greece we have an independent judicial system which is doing its job,” the government’s spokesman, Simos Kedikoglou, told Greek TV.
The decision to jail Mihaloliakos came as a reprieve to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government, which is hoping the mass arrests will subdue a party that until recently had appeared immune to accusations of violence and intimidation.
"Long live Greece! Victory!” Mihaloliakos said as he left the court following a six-hour plea session before a judge. He denied charges of founding and belonging to a criminal organisation.
His wife and daughter, joined by Golden Dawn lawmakers, stood outside the court in the rain. "You are a diamond — don’t buckle,” his wife Eleni Zaroulia, a fellow lawmaker, told him.
Earlier, as Mihaloliakos was brought to court by police, about 200 party supporters waving Greek flags shouted a popular party slogan: "Blood! Honour! Golden Dawn!".
Mihaloliakos, who was arrested on Saturday alongside other party members, will be transferred to a high security prison later on Thursday.
Golden Dawn said the decision was "the most wretched conspiracy in modern Greek political history".
"The jailing of our general secretary is totally unfair, unconstitutional and dictated by foreign centres of power,” the party said in a statement posted on its website.
Another party member was also detained pending trial after responding to the same charges, a court official said.
On Wednesday, three senior Golden Dawn lawmakers were freed pending trial. That decision had raised questions about the state’s case against Golden Dawn after one of its sympathisers stabbed anti-racism Pavlos Fissas to death last month.
Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and fellow lawmakers Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos stormed out of the court to cheers of "Bravo” from supporters. They spat, kicked and shoved journalists out of the way before hailing a taxi.
"The leader’s in, the gang’s out!” top-selling daily Ta Nea wrote on its front page. "It is the state’s duty to go to the end: The criminals need to be revealed, they need to be tried, and they need to pay,” the newspaper said. - Reuters