ATHENS — The jailed spokesman of Greece’s extreme right Golden Party was granted a brief leave from prison on Aug. 29 to take up his seat on Athens’ new city council, after the party won 16 percent of the capital’s vote capital in May municipal elections.
Parliament member Ilias Kasidiaris, who was jailed last month on illegal firearms charges, ran as a candidate for Athens mayor in the May 18-25 poll.
Police escorted the 33-year-old Kasidiaris to a municipal amphitheater where center-left Mayor Giorgos Kaminis was sworn in for a second five-year term.
Golden Dawn supporters gathered outside, briefly challenging a police cordon and chanting “Greece belongs to Greeks,” while party opponents also held separate demonstration that ended peacefully.
Golden Dawn, an ultra-nationalist party of neo-Nazi origins, has seen its support soar during Greece’s financial crisis. Nine of its 18 lawmakers are in prison, awaiting trial for alleged criminal activity.
“We wanted to put the thieves in jail, but they got to us first. It doesn’t matter though, because Greece always wins in the end,” Kasidiaris said while being escorted into the building by plainclothes police officers, who flanked him throughout the swearing-in ceremony.
Left-wing city council member Petros Constantinou said authorities shouldn’t have granted Kasidiaris prison leave. “I will fight for a city of democracy, freedom and solidarity, without neo-Nazis and racism,” he said.
Rival protests by supporters and opponents of Golden Dawn have been held in other parts of the country this week as other municipal councils were sworn in.
In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, re-elected Mayor Yiannis Boutaris attended the city ceremony Aug. 28 with a copy of a Nazi badge used to identify Jews pinned to his jacket, in an apparent protest against Golden Dawn members elected to his council.
(DEREK GATOPOULOS and PETROS GIANNAKOURIS)