Greece Golden Dawn trial opens in Athens

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The trial of 69 members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, charged with running a criminal organisation, begins without the leader of the party or the other main defendants

Greece Golden Dawn trial opens in Athens

Greek Golden Dawn trial opens without main accused

/ Athens (Greece) – 20 April 2015 16:02 – AFP (Sophie MAKRIS) / WRAP

The trial of 69 members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, charged with running a criminal organisation, began Monday without the party leader or other main defendants being present.

Golden Dawn founder Nikos Michaloliakos and most of the party’s MPs were not in the dock of the specially-built courtroom inside a high security prison near Athens for the opening of the trial, according to an AFP reporter.

Their lawyers gave no explanation for their absence. Michaloliakos and his right-hand man Christos Pappas had been free pending the start of the trial after spending 18 months in preventive custody.

Only around 40 defendants were present.

Michaloliakos and his co-defendants are charged with a range of crimes, including murder and participation in a criminal organisation.

Security was tight both inside and around Korydallos prison, where hundreds of anti-Golden Dawn protesters had gathered.

The trial, which is expected to last for months, will likely decide the future of parliament’s third-largest party, an openly xenophobic and anti-Semitic formation that used to be on the fringes of national politics but whose popularity soared as the country sank into economic hardship.

Anti-fascist and anti-racism groups were planning to gather enough supporters to outnumber an expected crowd of Golden Dawn members outside the jail.

“Golden Dawn members usually cram (into) the courtroom from dawn. We do not want this to happen, and will take all necessary measures to prevent it,” anti-fascist activist Takis Giannopoulos told AFP in the run-up to the trial.

Outside, local authorities were also preparing for disturbances.

“This is Greece’s biggest trial in 40 years. It will last at least 18 months. There will be gatherings by anti-fascist groups and Golden Dawn supporters,” Korydallos mayor Stavros Kasimatis told AFP ahead of the trial.

– Murder, weapons and racism –

Most of the defendants are charged with membership of a criminal organisation, a serious offence in Greece.

Others are accused of murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of weapons and racist violence, and risk sentences of up to 20 years if convicted.

A panel of three judges is hearing the case.

After a 15-month investigation, state prosecutors will try to prove that the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn operated as a criminal organisation with a military-style leadership that allegedly encouraged the beating — and possibly the killing — of migrants and political opponents.

Under the command of Michaloliakos, a 57-year-old disgraced former army cadet, the party has already been linked by investigating magistrates to at least two murders.

Golden Dawn rejects the accusations as politically motivated.

The group was founded in the mid-1980s by Michaloliakos, handpicked by ex-Greek dictator George Papadopoulos to lead a far-right youth group after the country’s junta fell.

For years it operated as a semi-clandestine group, but in 2012 it exploited widespread anger over immigration and austerity measures to win 18 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

– From fringe to mainstream –

Although its members had been known to patrol the streets, carrying out attacks on foreigners, the party rarely faced sanctions until the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013.

The group was later also linked to the murder of a Pakistani immigrant and beatings of political opponents.

Michaloliakos and a number of others were arrested, and a subsequent search of party members’ homes uncovered firearms and other weapons, as well as Nazi and fascist memorabilia.

Nevertheless the group held on to its support base in January’s general election, finishing third with 17 seats in the legislature.

Golden Dawn also grabbed third place in European Parliament elections in May 2014, with three MEPs for the first time in its history.

The party follows a strict military-style regimen, and investigating magistrates say its structure emulates that of the Nazi party — something Golden Dawn denies.

For many years Golden Dawn glorified Adolf Hitler in its party publications, but this rhetoric was later toned down.

Even so, in a May 2012 interview Michaloliakos effectively denied the Holocaust, telling Greece’s Mega channel: “There were no crematoria, it’s a lie. Or gas chambers.”

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Tags : Athens, opens, trial, Dawn, golden, greece

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