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Originally published Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 2:28 PM

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Greek police arrest Golden Dawn leader in crackdown

Counterterrorism police arrested five parliamentarians associated with Golden Dawn as part of a government crackdown following a killing also linked to the party.

The Associated Press

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ATHENS, Greece — The leader of Greece’s extreme-right Golden Dawn party and four of its parliamentarians were formally charged Saturday with membership in a criminal organization with intent to commit crimes, an escalation of a government crackdown after a fatal stabbing blamed on a supporter.

It was the first time since 1974 that sitting members of Parliament have been arrested.

Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and party spokesman Ilias Kassidiaris, both members of Parliament, and fellow parliamentarians Yannis Lagos, Nikos Michos and Ilias Panayiotaros were arrested by counterterrorism police. The last two gave themselves up voluntarily. A sixth parliamentarian, Christos Pappas — described in a prosecutor’s report as Golden Dawn’s No. 2 — remains at large.

An additional 15 people, including 13 Golden Dawn members and two police officers, also were arrested. The police did not release details of the criminal charges.

Police spokesman Christos Pagonis said a total of 32 warrants had been issued and the counterterrorism unit was searching for 18 people, including the missing deputy.

The government ordered an investigation into Golden Dawn’s activities after the Sept. 18 slaying of rapper Pavlos Fyssas sparked outrage across Greece. The suspect arrested in the slaying admitted to police that he had stabbed the 34-year-old and identified himself as a supporter of Golden Dawn.

Police investigated his cellphone records and those of more than 300 people connected to Golden Dawn.

Investigations have extended to the police force, which has been accused of turning a blind eye to Golden Dawn violence and of mistreating immigrants.

Under existing anti-terrorism legislation, membership in a criminal organization is a crime for which the Golden Dawn deputies can be prosecuted without Parliament needing to lift their immunity.

Golden Dawn is not new, but its influence has grown in tandem with the country’s devastating economic hardship. Offering promises to restore jobs and order, the party’s members espouse nationalistic and xenophobic stances, appealing to marginalized Greeks in rough areas populated by a rising number of unemployed immigrants, mostly from Pakistan and North Africa.

Human-rights groups say Golden Dawn, whose members perform Nazi salutes at rallies and meetings, has systematically terrorized immigrants, while the police have looked the other way. The aggressive acts include the beating of immigrants with clubs and shields bearing swastikalike symbols, or with wooden poles draped in the Greek flag.

Despite the arrests, the party’s lawmakers retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted. Golden Dawn holds 18 of Parliament’s 300 seats, after winning nearly 7 percent of the vote in general elections last year.

The party has vehemently denied any role in the rapper’s killing, but it has appeared to dent Golden Dawn’s appeal among Greeks.

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