Greece's top court allows far-right party to contest EU vote

ATHENS Sun May 11, 2014 4:03pm EDT

Leader of extreme-right Golden Dawn party Nikolaos Mihaloliakos (C) talks to reporters at a news conference in Athens May 6, 2012. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Leader of extreme-right Golden Dawn party Nikolaos Mihaloliakos (C) talks to reporters at a news conference in Athens May 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's Supreme Court on Sunday allowed the far-right Golden Dawn party to run in European elections this month, despite calls to ban it as its leader waits in jail to be tried for membership of a criminal organization.

The court routinely permits parties to take part in elections but a private citizen had asked it to exclude Golden Dawn this time because its leadership is under investigation over a string of attacks against immigrants and opponents.

Golden Dawn is expected to perform well due to a wave of anger against economic austerity - the price Greeks have paid for bailouts totaling 240 billion euros ($330 billion) from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to save the country from a debt crisis.

The party is running between third and fifth in opinion polls, and a strong showing would pose a challenge to the fragile coalition government.

Golden Dawn was among a list of 43 parties formally allowed by the court to stand in the May 25 vote, which coincides with Greek municipal elections.

The party sports a swastika-like symbol and its members have been seen giving Nazi-style salutes. Golden Dawn, which rejects the label neo-Nazi, entered parliament for the first time in 2012, tapping into resentment against illegal immigrants and mass unemployment. The jobless rate still stands at nearly 28 percent.

The investigation against Golden Dawn was triggered by the arrest in September of a party supporter who confessed to the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist Greek musician.

Party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos and five other lawmakers have been jailed awaiting trial so far. Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris, who is running for Athens mayor, is free on bail pending trial on charges of participating in a criminal group. All have denied any wrongdoing.

The government has resisted calls to ban Golden Dawn outright, which would require a constitutional amendment. Having lived through decades of authoritarian government after World War Two, including a seven-year military dictatorship, Greece now bars only convicted criminals from contesting elections. ($1 = 0.7269 Euros)

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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