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Greece: Leader of neo-Nazi Golden Dawn convicted for 'leading a criminal organisation'

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Former MP and leader of Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos
Former MP and leader of Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Michaloliakos   -   Copyright  AFP
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The founder and leader of the Greek extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, Nikos Michaloliakos, was Wednesday convicted of "leading a criminal organisation".

The court handed out the same verdict to six more of the party's former lawmakers and ruled others were guilty of participating in a criminal organisation. They face up to 15 years in prison.

The Athens Criminal Court ruled on Monday against mitigating circumstances that could reduce the sentences, AFP reported. Judges have been deliberating for days over the sentences for the former lawmakers.

The landmark verdict concluded a five-year-long trial against the party and was met with applause from crowds that had gathered outside the court.

The 68 defendants in the trial include 18 former lawmakers from the party, which rose to become Greece’s third-largest party in parliament during the country’s decade-long financial crisis.

More than 15,000 people gathered outside the courthouse and scuffles broke out when the verdict was announced.

A small group threw projectiles while police responded with tear gas and use of a water cannon.

The case began after a series of delays in April 2015 and will see judges consider testimony from dozens of defendants, hundreds of witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence.

It was triggered by the September 2013 murder of anti-fascist campaigner and hip-hop artist, Pavlos Fyssas, in the port of Piraeus.

A self-confessed member of Golden Dawn, Giorgos Roupakias, was charged with the brutal murder.

Greek prosecutors said that 68 leaders, MPs and activists ordered or at the very least were aware of the murder of Fyssas. They are also suspected of other violent attacks, racketeering, attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons.

This in effect, prosecutors said, means that the neo-Nazi populist political party is actually an organised crime outfit.

The far-right party had members within parliament from 2012 until July 2019 when Golden Dawn failed to receive 3% of the vote as required in the general election.

The party dates back to the 1980s and has embraced the history of the far-right in Greece, such as dictator Ioannis Metaxas (1936-1941) and the Regime of the Colonels (1967-1974).

It was officially founded in 1985 though it did not gain much attention until the early 1990s. It espouses an ultranationalistic and xenophobic doctrine.

Golden Dawn closed for a while in 2005 and was absorbed into another ultranationalist party called Patriotic Alliance, though Michaloliakos withdrew his support in 2007 and Golden Dawn became the main party for the extreme right.

Support grew for the party as Greece’s economic crisis deepened and the party pushed its ultra-nationalist agenda and attracted a support base.

Golden Dawn leapt onto the national stage in the May 2012 general election, winning 7% of the popular vote and entering the Hellenic Parliament with 21 seats.

In January 2015, their seats dropped to 17 and yet they were still the third-largest political party in the parliament.