ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Amid tight police security, four lawmakers from Greece’s extremist Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party appeared in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing into charges of participating in a criminal organization.
Anti-terrorist squad officers led them into court as a few dozen Golden Dawn supporters who had gathered outside applauded. Another three lower-ranking party members appeared before an examining magistrate earlier in the day.
The party’s top leadership, including its head, are among 22 people arrested in a crackdown after the fatal stabbing on Sept. 17 of a Greek anti-fascist rap singer. Arrest warrants have been issued for another 10 people.
Golden Dawn rose from a fringe group to become Greece’s third most popular party in recent years, riding on a wave of anger over the country’s deep financial crisis that started in late 2009. It won nearly 7 percent of the vote and gained 18 seats in the country’s 300-member parliament in elections last year.
Party members and even lawmakers have frequently been accused in the past of being behind numerous violent attacks, mostly against dark-skinned migrants.
Golden Dawn angrily denied any involvement in the violence. It also rejects the neo-Nazi label, although it plays the Nazi anthem at party events and makes heavy use of Nazi slogans — translated into Greek.
Police searches of senior party officials’ homes turned up illegal firearms, posters of Adolf Hitler, and assorted Nazi memorabilia.
Photos released by police late Monday show party Parliamentary spokesman Christos Pappas had turned his country home into a Nazi and fascist shrine, with items including a Waffen SS poster and helmet, an Adolf Hitler street-sign, a toy Nazi flag-bearer, swastikas galore and wine bottles labeled with photos of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
The four party members brought to court Tuesday were party spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, Ilias Panagiotaros, Yiannis Lagos and Nikos Mihos.
The party leader, Nikos Michaloliakos, is to appear in court for his deposition on Wednesday, while Pappas heads there Thursday.