ATHENS In a tense atmosphere in an Athens cemetery, more than 2,000 mourners bid farewell on Thursday to an anti-racism rapper who was stabbed to death by a man sympathizing with the far-right Golden Dawn party.
The killing of 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas touched a nerve in Greece, where economic hardship has divided society, and rallies in several cities to mark his death turned violent on Wednesday.
"Pigs! Fascists! Murderers!" mourners chanted as relatives carried Fissas's white coffin into a graveyard on a hill overlooking the working-class Keratsini suburb where he was stabbed. As others sang his songs, one man shouted: "Immortal!"
Fissas, who went by the stage name Killah P, was stabbed twice in the heart and chest on Tuesday night in a brawl after a soccer match shown in a cafe.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday called for calm during what he said was an "extremely critical time" for Greece.
"This government is determined to not allow descendents of Nazis to poison society, to commit crimes, to terrorize and to undermine the foundations of a country that gave birth to democracy," Samaras said in a televised address to the nation.
Several rallies by anti-establishment groups and unions, which turned a 48-hour anti-austerity strike that began on Wednesday into a protest over his killing, were planned for later on Thursday.
A self-proclaimed supporter of Golden Dawn confessed to the killing. The 45-year-old, who has been pictured in Greek media with his arm around a Golden Dawn lawmaker, was due to appear before a prosecutor on Saturday.
The party, Greece's third most popular, condemned the killing and denied involvement. It said those who accused the party were "wretched sycophants" trying to win votes.
Golden Dawn, whose emblem resembles a swastika, rose from obscurity to win 18 seats in parliament in elections last year on an anti-immigrant and anti-corruption agenda.
Its members have been seen giving Nazi-style salutes but the party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
Human rights' groups have long accused the party of being linked to attacks on immigrants but this is the first time it is being is investigated for evidence linking it to an attack.
Greece's coalition partners have quarreled over whether to ban it and several lawmakers have openly opposed the ban, saying it would boost its appeal and turn its member into martyrs.
On Wednesday, Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Dendias said simply the government would toughen laws against "criminal organizations and armed groups", without elaborating.
On Athens' streets, talk was of Golden Dawn and austerity.
"The government has ravaged our wages and pensions but the time has come for all of us to kick Golden Dawn out of parliament and tell Europe it needs to stop the austerity that is breeding these things," said Lydia Montesanto, a 62-year-old pensioner.
On Wednesday night, more than 5,000 people rallied on the spot where Fissas was stabbed. Police fired teargas at protesters who hurled stones and petrol bombs at a police station and set garbage containers on fire.
Clashes between police and demonstrators also took place in two other cities, Patras and Thessaloniki, on Wednesday night.
Greece, the epicenter of the euro zone debt crisis, has been hit hard by years of deep recession brought on by tough austerity required by international lenders which have kept the economy afloat and in the common currency bloc with more
Unemployment data on Wednesday showed the jobless rate dropping slightly in the second quarter, but still at a huge 27.1 percent, with youth unemployment at 59 percent.
Such economic pain has prompted widespread anger, some of it at foreigners, prompting in part the rise of Golden Dawn.
Above a photo of a swastika in a red circle with a line running through it, Greece's top selling daily Ta Nea screamed on its front page: "Enough is enough!"
(Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Angus MacSwan)