Police arrested the leader of Greeces extreme-right Golden Dawn party and other top members on Saturday,in an escalation of a government crackdown after a fatal stabbing allegedly committed by a supporter.
It is the first time since 1974 that sitting members of Parliament have been arrested. The arrests underline the Greek governments efforts to stifle the fiercely anti-immigrant party,which has been increasingly on the defensive since the killing. Police announced the arrests of 16 Golden Dawn members on charges of forming a criminal organization,including party head Nikos Michaloliakos,the groups spokesman and three other lawmakers.
An operation by the counterterrorism unit was still ongoing late Saturday morning,with a total of about 35 arrest warrants for Golden Dawn members issued,two police officials said.The government ordered an investigation into Golden Dawns activities after the death of rapper Pavlos Fyssas on September 18 sparked outrage across Greece. The suspect arrested over his death admitted to police that he had stabbed the 34-year-old and identified himself as a supporter of Golden Dawn.
Investigations have extended to the police,which have been accused in the past of turning a blind eye to Golden Dawn violence and of mistreating immigrants. A police officer was also arrested on Saturday.
The case is being handled by Greeces Supreme Court and anti-terrorist squad under organised crime laws.
Despite the arrests,the partys lawmakers retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime. Golden Dawn holds 18 of Parliaments 300 seats,after winning nearly 7 percent of the vote in general elections last year.