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Monday, February 4, 2013

GREECE: Far-Right March On Athens

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It was supposed to be a remembrance rally, but as thousands packed Athens to honour three fallen heroes, the black-clad crowd of men in military fatigues and baseball caps crested with mangled swastikas, offered the grimmest reminder yet of Greece's tireless march to the far right.
Organised by Golden Dawn, which emerged from political obscurity here to win 7% of the national vote last June, last night's event showcased the group's biggest public gathering to date.
Toting blue-and-white Greek flags, orange-red flares and wooden torches, some 30,000 supporters, according to organisers, gathered in central Athens, shouting slogans indicative of the party's virulent and truculent beliefs.
"We are winning the hearts and minds of the people, because we say it as it is," roared Ilias Kassidiaris, the party's spokesman.
"These politicians who have ruled us for decades are crooks. They have betrayed our national interests. They have led us to humiliating defeats," he said, referring to a near-war showdown with Nato ally Turkey in 1996.
Three Greek Airforce pilots were killed in that crisis and the dispute over contesting claims to a barren outcrop in Aegean Sea forced then US trouble-shooter Richard Holbrooke to intervene.
He ordered both Nato allies not only to climb down from their conflicting claims but to refrain from further ownership disputes of islands in the oil-rich Aegean.
For hardcore nationalists like Golden Dawn sympathisers, the retreat marked an embarrassing sell-out of national sovereignty - a theme gaining fresh appeal among the country's young and unemployed youth as foreign creditors demand greater control over the Greece's failing finances.
"They calls us fascists, thugs and criminals," says Vassilis, a 23-year-old recruit, who joined the party because of his disenchantment with the country's feckless political elite.
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Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Michalioliakos addresses the rally
"We're nationalists. We're patriots. And if these guys who ruled the country for decades had a fibre the nationalism we're running on, they would have never brought the country to its current predicament."
With extremism - left and right - polarising Greek society, hundreds of riot police and undercover officers were on alert on Saturday in a bid to thwart potential attacks, springing from the gathering, held within yards of the prime minister's office and the Turkish embassy in Athens. Surrounding roads, also, were cordoned off by police, bringing traffic to a halt and angering locals.
"For a nation that suffered dearly under the Nazis, neo-Nazi gatherings, like these, should be banned," said Sofia Laniti, a 47-year-old saleswoman.
If anything, polls show, the far-right group has gained even greater political ground, since its startling entry to Parliament, becoming Greece's third largest party with over 10% national support.
Mr Kassidiaris said: "This is a day of remembrance. It's a day to remember that Golden Dawn is here to stay. And so long as it does, there will be hope for the country."

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