ATHENS (Reuters) - The founder of the Greek far-right movement Golden Dawn turned himself in on Thursday after a court refused to suspend jail terms on him and other leading figures for running a criminal gang linked to hate crimes.
Nikos Mihaloliakos left his apartment in an Athenian suburb and was driven to police headquarters, as a small number of supporters shouted “Blood, Honour, Golden Dawn”.
Earlier, the scowling 62-year-old had struck a defiant tone, telling reporters gathered outside his home that he was being hounded by a “dirty junta” of politicians and media.
“I am proud, I am being taken to jail for my ideas,” he had said.
Mihaloliakos and five other former Golden Dawn lawmakers were each sentenced to 13 years in prison on Oct. 14.
The movement entered parliament in 2012 at the peak of the country’s economic crisis on a fiercely anti-immigrant platform, seizing on public anger over painful austerity measures and at the political establishment.
But the killing of a left-wing musician by a party supporter in 2013 sparked nationwide protests. A government-led crackdown followed, during which Mihaloliakos and more than a dozen other party members were arrested and charged with founding and participating in a criminal group.
An anti-austerity and anti-immigrant agenda made Golden Dawn Greece’s third-most popular party at the peak of the country’s worst financial crisis since World War II. It lost its parliamentary seats in an election last year.
Most of those convicted have filed appeals. Even though the jail terms were announced on Oct 14, it is legal practice in Greece to hear defence arguments for mitigation post-conviction, as well as applications for a suspension of jail terms if appeals are lodged.
Among those convicted was Yannis Lagos, who resigned from Golden Dawn last year and remains a European Parliament deputy.
The process for his arrest was expected to take longer since Greece has to issue an arrest warrant, and his parliamentary immunity needs to be lifted, a police source said.
One of the defendants brought in his mother to testify on his behalf. Ilias Kasidiaris, the party’s former spokesman, also turned himself in, and compared the conviction to the fate which had befallen Greek heroes, notably Athenian general and politician Themistocles.
“Those who are fighting honourably for the sake of Greece - from ancient times until today - they have been jailed, exiled, murdered”, he said, referring to Themistocles and Theodoros Kolokotronis, another figure revered in Greece.
Possibly one of his more memorable appearances was throwing a tantrum on TV, slapping a female member of parliament and throwing a glass of water at another in 2012.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Michele Kambas and Angeliki Koutantou; Additional reporting by Vassilis Triantafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens
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