Greek police arrested the leader, two MPs and party members from the far-right Golden Dawn party today, and charged one member with being an accomplice to the killing of an anti-fascist rapper.
Police said party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, two other MPs and 10 members had been arrested on charges of founding a criminal organisation. They are due to appear in court this weekend to be formally charged.
Golden Dawn, ranked Greece’s third most popular party in opinion polls, is under investigation for the murder of Pavlos Fissas which sparked violent protests and a crackdown on political extremism.
Greek justice minister Haralambos Athanassiou said anyone brought before the courts would receive a fair trial. "Democracy in Greece is strong," the minister said after meeting prime minister Antonis Samaras and public order minister Nikos Dendias. "All those arrested will have a fair trial."
The party has denied any links to the killing and Mr Mihaloliakos has warned the party could pull its 18 MPs from parliament if the crackdown does not stop.
If potential by-elections were won by the opposition, as some polls indicate, Greece’s fragile two-party coalition would become politically untenable, Mr Mihaloliakos has argued.
“Shame on them, the people will lift Golden Dawn higher,” Ilias Panagiotaros, a Golden Dawn MP told reporters before his arrest.
The party has 18 out of parliament’s 300 MPs and scored 14 per cent of voter support in opinion polls before the stabbing. A poll this week showed its backing had fallen to as low as 6.7 per cent.
Greek MPs do not lose their political rights or seats unless there is a final court ruling against them but the government has proposed a law that could block state funding for Golden Dawn if police find links to Fissas’s murder.