Greek far-right lawmakers to make pleas against criminal charges on Tuesday

Reuters

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The leader of Greece's far-rightGolden Dawn party and four more of its lawmakers will make theirpleas against charges of belonging to a criminal organisation onOct. 1, after being arrested following the killing of ananti-fascist rapper.

They spent nine hours with prosecutors overnight and weretaken at 3:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) back to police headquarters wherethey will be held until they appear before an investigatingmagistrate on Tuesday to respond to the charges.

The arrest of party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, partyspokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, four other lawmakers and 13 partymembers was the biggest mass detention of lawmakers since theend of Greece's military dictatorship in 1974.

The other suspects will appear in court to make their pleason Wednesday, a court official said on condition of anonymity.

The party is being investigated over the stabbing to deathof 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas on Sept. 17, which triggeredoutrage and protests across the country.

The party has denied any links to the killing andMihaloliakos has warned that Golden Dawn may pull its lawmakersfrom parliament if the crackdown does not stop. That could forceseveral by-elections.

Golden Dawn rose from obscurity to gain 18 seats inparliament last year on a virulently anti-immigrant agenda andis Greece's third most popular party, according to opinionpolls. Mihaloliakos is a Holocaust denier, party members havegive Nazi-style salutes and their emblem resembles a swastika.

Members of parliament do not lose their political rights orseats unless there is a final court ruling against them. But thegovernment has proposed a law that would block state funding forparties whose leaders or lawmakers are prosecuted for felonies.

One more lawmaker turned himself in on Sunday. "Long liveGolden Dawn," Golden Dawn MP Christos Pappas shouted as heentered the Athens police headquarters.

Greek newspapers hailed the arrests, as a victory fordemocracy. "Golden Dawn's Holocaust," read the front page of theleftist Ethnos newspaper. "Democracy is knocking out theneo-Nazis," read To Vima.

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