Leader of Greece’s Golden Dawn Held in Custody

ATHENS, Greece (Reuters) -
Leader of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by anti-terror police at the court , in Athens. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
Leader of the extreme far-right Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is escorted by anti-terror police at the court , in Athens. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

The leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party was remanded in custody on Thursday pending trial on criminal charges, the first time an elected party chief has been put behind bars since a military coup nearly five decades ago.

The detention of Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, who has watched support for his party wane after a supporter was accused of murdering a popular entertainer, is a reprieve for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s government that has vowed to wipe out the party, calling it a “gang of neo-Nazis.”

Stunned by a court decision on Wednesday to free three other senior Golden Dawn lawmakers before their hearings, the government hailed Thursday’s ruling as “the most dynamic confrontation of a neo-Nazi criminal gang in European, and possibly, world history.”

The government, which is hoping the arrests of senior Golden Dawn members will help it subdue a party seemingly untouched by accusations of violence and intimidation, praised the justice system for “doing its job.”

Mihaloliakos, grey-haired and bespectacled, shouted: “Long live Greece! Victory!” as he was led away from court in handcuffs in the early hours of Thursday. He denied charges of founding and belonging to a criminal organization during a six-hour plea session before a judge.

Flag-waving supporters yelled a popular party slogan: “Blood! Honor! Golden Dawn!”

Mihaloliakos was arrested on Saturday alongside four other party lawmakers and dozens more party members. A sixth lawmaker turned himself in on Sunday.

All six have denied the charges against them and say they are victims of political persecution.