ATHENS (Reuters) - The leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party made a brief appearance in parliament on Wednesday for the first time since he was jailed eight months ago, hurling abuse at lawmakers before they voted to strip him of immunity from prosecution.
In a rowdy session before the vote, which allows another round of criminal charges to be pressed against him and two other lawmakers, Nikos Mihaloliakos accused the government of a politically-motivated conspiracy to rob his party of votes.
“I have a lot to say and I will say it,” Mihaloliakos shouted after being escorted by police from Athens’ high-security prison to attend the session. “You can turn off the microphone the way you sent me to jail!”
“Leave! You are dangerous for the country. You are a pitiful minority government that must fall,” he yelled at ministers before being taken back to prison.
Outside parliament, hundreds of Golden Dawn supporters dressed in black waved Greek flags, sang the party’s anthem and chanted “Scum! Traitors!” at politicians inside.
The party, which denies it is neo-Nazi but has been linked to attacks against immigrants, has been emboldened by May 25 elections for the European Parliament, when it won nearly 10 percent of the vote to cement its place as Greece’s third most popular party.
Mihaloliakos, who has given the Nazi salute in public and denies the Holocaust, was arrested with dozens more senior party officials last September and detained pending trial after the stabbing of an anti-racism rapper by a Golden Dawn supporter.
Their public arrests were the most significant mass round-up of lawmakers since a military coup in 1967. All deny the charges of setting up and belonging to a criminal group and say the crackdown is a political witch-hunt on questionable evidence.
“It was a trick, a ruse, to crush us, to bring us down to 2 percent,” Mihaloliakos told lawmakers on Wednesday.
“You were looking for black money - you found nothing. You were searching like gangsters - like gangsters. Where is the black money? Where are your arsenals? Nowhere!”
All but one of the 224 lawmakers present voted to strip Mihaloliakos and two other senior party lawmakers of immunity from prosecution. The far-right leader has already been charged with setting up a criminal group and is now expected to face new charges of arms possession and supplying weapons.
Greek lawmakers are protected from prosecution and in most cases only parliament can lift their immunity if they are suspected of criminal activity. Lawmakers do not lose their seats unless there is a court ruling against them.
The killing of Pavlos Fissas - who bled to death after being stabbed twice in what prosecutors said was a pre-meditated attack - prompted protests across Greece, a shake-up of the police and a broad investigation of the party.
Golden Dawn was an obscure fringe group a few years ago but has drawn support from anger over the debt crisis, an influx of illegal migrants, high unemployment and corruption. It entered parliament for the first time in 2012, winning 18 seats.
“This is the leader of the third political party speaking and I would like to thank the 536,000 Greeks who proudly stood up to the junta of Venizelos and Samaras,” Mihaloliakos said, referring to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his deputy, Evangelos Venizelos, the Socialist PASOK party leader.
Investigating magistrates have said they plan to charge all 18 Golden Dawn lawmakers and other senior supporters with membership of a criminal organisation. If convicted, the lawmakers face at least 10 years in jail.
“Whether they like it or not, justice is independent in this country,” Justice Minister Charalambos Athanassiou said in response to the accusations by Golden Dawn. “I mean it and I will reiterate that they will have a fair trial.”
Writing by Karolina Tagaris, editing by Deepa Babington and Gareth Jones