ATHENS The spokesman of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party slapped one female leftist politician in the face and threw a glass of water at another during a live TV debate on Thursday, causing a political uproar and an order for his arrest.
Other political parties condemned Ilias Kasidiaris for the assault on the two women during a morning talk show on private television station Antenna ahead of the June 17 parliamentary election.
Kasidiaris, whose party entered parliament for the first time on May 6, was locked in a room at the TV studio but broke down a door and escaped, the TV host said.
A public prosecutor ordered police to track him down and arrest him on charges of causing serious bodily harm, a court official said.
The TV debate descended into chaos when Kasidiaris threw a glass of water at Rena Dourou, a member of the radical leftist SYRIZA party and called her a "joke".
As other panelists watched in stunned silence, Communist party deputy Liana Kanelli intervened on Dourou's behalf, throwing a newspaper at Kasidiaris, who called her a "commie", stood up, pushed her and hit her hard in the face.
"I was worried he might throw the glass and hurt somebody," Kanelli told reporters later. She showed a dark bruise on her cheek, saying: "It's my badge of honor."
Golden Dawn came from nowhere to win 7 percent of the inconclusive vote in May and enter parliament for the first time, riding a wave of hostility towards illegal immigrants in austerity-ridden Greece.
The party denies it is neo-Nazi, though its chief Nikos Mihaloliakos delivers Nazi salutes and has denied the Holocaust.
Its support has slipped ahead of the repeat June 17 vote, but it is still expected comfortably to exceed the 3 percent threshold needed to win parliamentary seats.
Golden Dawn said in a statement on its website that Kasidiaris had been provoked: "If anybody wants us to condemn our colleague over this indeed unfortunate moment, they should first condemn Kanelli's attack and slandering."
Kasidiaris, who was elected to parliament, faces up to 10 years in jail if convicted but may be fined instead.
He is already due to stand trial on June 11 on separate charges - which he denies - of helping assailants attack a university professor in 2007.
His burst of aggression during the TV debate followed a reference by SYRIZA's Dourou to his forthcoming trial.
"I call on all Greeks to defend our history and shut our ears to those selling cheap nationalism," Dourou told reporters.
The Greek presidency, the government and political rivals were quick to condemn the assault, and some urged Golden Dawn supporters to abandon the party.
"We are urging citizens who voted for Golden Dawn to reconsider," said Fofi Gennimata, a spokeswoman for the Socialist PASOK party. No PASOK representatives will take part in future TV debates with Golden Dawn members, she said.
The president's office said the assault was an affront to democracy. "We will not tolerate the violation of democratic rules..." it said in a statement.
(Editing by Tim Pearce)