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

Reuters

* Party leader, 4 lawmakers linked to "criminalorganisation"

* Arrests follow Sept. 17 killing of anti-fascist rapper

* Golden Dawn denies any connection with killing

* Shake-up in police over signs of Golden Dawn influence

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS, Sept 29 (Reuters) - The leader of Greece's far-rightGolden Dawn party and four more of its lawmakers will appear incourt on Tuesday to enter pleas on charges of belonging to acriminal organisation after being arrested following the killingof an anti-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.

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 fatal stabbing of 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas on Sept. 17stirred outrage and protests across Greece and led to aninvestigation into the party for evidence linking it to theattack and dozens more criminal offences.

t has also prompted a shake-up of Greek police in light ofevidence obtained by investigators indicating that Golden Dawncells were operating within the force. Two police officers werearrested on Saturday in connection with the inquiry and severalsenior officers have been suspended or replaced.

Two days after the killing, the government passed onto thehighest civilian court a file containing 32 cases of suspectedcrimes linked to members of Golden Dawn, including four knifeattacks on immigrants, one of which was fatal.

Late on Saturday evening, the detainees were taken underhigh security to the prosecutors' office and charged officiallyon evidence linking the party with a string of attacks,including the stabbing of the rapper on Sept. 17 and the killingof an immigrant earlier this year, court officials told Reuters.

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

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

Greek members of parliament do not lose their politicalrights or seats unless there is a final court ruling againstthem. But the government has proposed a law that would blockstate funding for parties whose leaders or lawmakers areprosecuted for felonies.

One more Gold Dawn legislator turned himself in on Sunday."Long live 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 daily. "Democracy is knocking out the neo-Nazis,"read To Vima.

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