ATHENS (Reuters) - Most Greeks believe that criminal charges filed against the leader and top officials of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party are fair and more than half are happy with the government’s handling of the case, a poll found on Saturday.
The party’s leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, five other senior lawmakers and dozens more members were arrested in September following the killing of a popular anti-racism rapper by a Golden Dawn sympathizer.
The stabbing of 34-year-old Pavlos Fissas prompted a wide crackdown on Golden Dawn in a search for evidence linking it to the attack and also led to a shake-up of the police after allegations that party cells were operating within the force.
TV footage of the lawmakers, handcuffed and hustled to the police headquarters by hooded anti-terrorism officers with machine guns, had riveted Greeks unused to such images since a military coup nearly five decades ago.
Mihaloliakos and two of his colleagues have been jailed pending trial on charges of belonging to a criminal organization. The three other party lawmakers were freed but ordered not to leave Greece.
All six have denied the charges and say they are victims of political persecution.
Eight in 10 Greeks believe the charges of belonging to a criminal group were justified, the poll by RASS for the Typos Tis Kyriakis newspaper found. Fifty-one percent said they were satisfied with the government’s handling of the case while 35 percent were not.
The party, which according to the poll remains the country’s third most popular political force, has shed support since the arrests.
The RASS poll put support for Golden Dawn at 6.3 percent. Before the killing, opinion polls found the party enjoyed about 10 to 13 percent support.
Before winning 18 seats in last year’s elections, Golden Dawn was relatively unknown, but it won over Greeks struggling through Greece’s dire economic crisis by giving out food in poor neighborhoods and promising to fight crime and take on corrupt politicians.
Human rights groups have linked Golden Dawn members dressed in black and wielding batons to violent attacks on dark-skinned migrants and political opponents, but the party denies accusations of violence.
It is widely regarded as a neo-Nazi group - Nazi memorabilia has been found in searches of the homes of arrested party members and its leader has been seen giving Nazi-style salutes, although the party rejects the label.
Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; writing by Karolina Tagaris; editing by Tom Pfeiffer