Greeks return to polls as voting has begun in the country’s snap general election.
Opinion polls indicate a tight race between the left-wing incumbent Syriza party and the conservative New Democracy.
The snap election, Greece’s fifth in six years, was called after Syriza lost its parliamentary majority in August.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras’s popularity plummeted after he agreed a new bailout deal with European leaders.
The bailout involved austerity measures which Syriza had vowed to oppose.
Greece is mired in a deep financial crisis and whoever wins today’s election will have to oversee further tough economic reforms.
According to analysts, whichever party wins is unlikely to get enough seats to form a government alone.
That could mean a period of political instability just as deadlines loom for the implementation of a series of key financial reforms.
Former PM Alexis Tsipras said Greeks would elect “a fighting government” that will “move on with necessary reforms and break with the old regime”, as he cast his ballot on Sunday morning in the Athens district of Kypseli.
Alexis Tsipras signed the bailout deal shortly after a referendum in which more than 60% of voters rejected the austerity measures creditors wanted to impose.
In interviews leading up to the election, Alexis Tsipras Tsipras said he had put his country above his party. He said that had he not agreed to the three-year bailout, Greece would probably have had to leave the eurozone.
He told Antenna TV on September 18 he would “tug the rope” to try to win relief on Greece’s huge national debt from EU creditors.
His main rival, New Democracy leader Vangelis Meimarakis, has dismissed Alexis Tsipras’s term in office as “an experiment that cost [the country] dearly”.
“I fear that if Syriza is elected… the country will soon be led to elections again, and this would be disastrous,” he said.
Commentators say there is also a tight race for third place between the socialist Pasok party and the far-right Golden Dawn.
Analysts have said the migrant crisis on Greece’s doorstep may boost support for Golden Dawn, which is strongly opposed to immigration.
Polls close at 19:00 local time, with the first projected results expected two hours later.
Leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party Nikos Michaloliakos is to appear in court to answer charges of organizing a criminal group.
Nikos Michaloliakos was one of six MPs arrested over the weekend amid outrage over the recent murder of an anti-racist musician.
Three of the detained MPs have been freed pending trial while a fourth was remanded in custody.
All four denied the charges against them during a marathon court hearing in Athens.
In all, 22 people were detained following the September 18 murder of Pavlos Fyssas.
A man held for the stabbing told police he was a Golden Dawn supporter, though the party strongly denies any link.
Nikos Michaloliakos faces charges including murder, assault and money-laundering.
According to Greek law, he will set out a preliminary defense argument when he appears before an investigative judge on Wednesday.
The judge will then decide – on the basis of the charges and the defense statement – whether to grant bail or remand Nikos Michaloliakos in custody pending his full trial, which the authorities are keen to conclude swiftly.
MP and party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris was freed on Wednesday on bail of 50,000 euros ($68,000) and banned from leaving the country. Fellow MPs Ilias Panagiotaros and Nikos Michos were freed under travel bans but with no bail set.
A fourth MP, Yannis Lagos, was remanded in custody.
The plea session lasted 18 hours, Reuters news agency reports.
Nikos Michaloliakos is to appear in court to answer charges of organizing a criminal group
Nikos Michaloliakos’s deputy, Christos Pappas, is set to appear in court in the coming days.
Any MPs finally convicted would lose their seats in parliament, prompting by-elections and – the government hopes – leading to the destruction of Greece’s neo-Nazi party.
During Tuesday’s court appearances, there was a heavy presence of riot police – a reminder that despite falling popularity in the opinion polls, the party still commands significant support.
Supporters outside court chanted slogans, including “You are heroes!”
Details from witness testimony have been emerging about the way in which the party operated.
The testimony speaks of a strict hierarchical structure – or “Fuehrer principle” as the indictment calls it – as well as assault squads and military-style training.
Searches of the homes of some MPs have found Nazi paraphernalia as well as unlicensed weapons, ammunition and bundles of cash.
The crackdown was sparked by outrage at the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas, 34, whose stage name was Killah P.
George Roupakias, 45, who said he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, was arrested in connection with the killing.
On Friday, Golden Dawn – which won nearly 7% of the vote in 2012 elections – threatened to pull its 18 MPs out of the 300-strong parliament.
The governing coalition headed by PM Antonis Samaras, which has 155 seats, would then face by-elections.
Speaking on a visit to the US on Monday, Antonis Samaras vowed to eradicate the “shame of neo-Nazism”.
In recent months, Golden Dawn has been accused of perpetrating attacks on migrants and political opponents.
Golden Dawn officially denies being a neo-Nazi movement, despite its swastika-like insignia.
Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, leader of Greece’s far-right Golden Dawn party, has been arrested on charges of forming a criminal organization.
Another Golden Dawn MP has been held and more warrants issued, Greek police say.
The arrests and warrants come amid anger over the murder on September 18 of anti-racist musician, Pavlos Fyssas.
A man arrested for the stabbing told police he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, though the party strongly denies any link.
“The Secretary General and one lawmaker of the Golden Dawn Party were arrested a short while ago after arrest warrants were issued,” Greek police said in a text message.
Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos has been arrested on charges of forming a criminal organization
The other MP arrested was said to be Ilias Kasidiaris.
The killing of Pavlos Fyssas – whose stage name was Killah P – has sparked protests in Athens and across Greece.
George Roupakias, who said he was a supporter of Golden Dawn, was arrested.
The government launched a crackdown, including raids on Golden Dawn premises and the suspension of police believed to be sympathizers.
Police arrested one of their own colleagues who was reportedly working as a bodyguard for the party, during a raid on its offices in the western town of Agrinio on Tuesday.
The government also began an inquiry into the activities of Golden Dawn, which won nearly 7% of the vote in 2012 elections.
In recent months, Golden Dawn has been accused of perpetrating attacks on migrants and political opponents – including an attack on Communist Party members earlier this month which is said to have left nine people in hospital.
Some 3,000 people have taken part in a rally in Athens to protest against the rise of Greece’s neo-fascist party Golden Dawn.
The protest, which brought together Greeks and immigrants, was part of a day of anti-racism events.
Golden Dawn, exploiting public anger over the financial crisis, won 18 seats in parliament last June.
One of the most right-wing parties in Europe, it is accused of anti-immigrant attacks, but denies violent activity.
The coffin of a Pakistani immigrant murdered by suspected right-wing extremists was also put on display.
Some 3,000 people have taken part in a rally in Athens to protest against the rise of Greece’s neo-fascist party Golden Dawn
Shehzad Luqman, 27, was stabbed to death by two men who had been riding a motorcycle as he rode his bicycle to work in the Athens neighborhood of Petralona in the early hours of Wednesday.
More than 80% of immigrants to the European Union enter via Greece.
This was a day designed to show the other side of Greece, drowning out the racism of the minority.
Greek hospitality is well-known – but the financial crisis is changing the nation with elements lurching to the right and fearing both the future and the outsider.
Away from Athens, campaigners used a more artistic means of spreading the word: a children’s play with a social message was staged, telling the story of a Greek family that meets Iranians and a Pakistani on holiday, and of initial fears subsiding as the group learns to live together.
The play’s director, Vassilis Koukalani, said: “The play is about prejudice, about racism, about xenophobia and it shows how we can overcome these things with common sense, with a sense of humour, with a sense of justice above all.”
Far-right Golden Dawn party in Greece has handed out free food to hundreds of struggling people in central Athens, but only to Greek nationals.
The ultra-nationalists won 18 parliamentary seats in Greece’s June election, with a campaign openly hostile to illegal immigrants.
People lining up for food had to show identity papers to get the free packages from party volunteers.
Greece’s debt crisis has pushed the unemployment rate up to nearly 23%.
At Wednesday’s event on Syntagma Square the Golden Dawn activists handed out packets of pasta, milk, potatoes and cooking oil.
One of the party’s MPs, Ilias Kasidiaris, told Reuters TV that they had bought the food “exclusively from Greek producers to give to Greek people”.
Far-right Golden Dawn party has handed out free food to hundreds of struggling people in central Athens, but only to Greek nationals
A fellow MP at the event, Christos Pappas, said: ”We are in Greece, so Greeks have priority.”
“The illegal immigrants that have come here, who enjoy, if you will, all the rights and privileges that come from Greek taxpayers are illegal, invaders. They are a threat to Greece,” he said.
The Greek newspaper Kathimerini says the event took place despite a ban from the local authorities, who did not want it to be held in Syntagma Square.
Greece’s ruling coalition was meeting on Wednesday to decide on more painful budget cuts. They have not yet agreed on 11.5 billion Euros ($14 billion) in additional savings required to access a new loan installment from the EU and IMF, worth 31.5 billion Euros.
Thousands of people have protested in Greece against the far-right Golden Dawn party after its spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris assaulted Liana Kanelli of the Greek Communist party on live TV.
Demonstrators shouted “Neo-Nazis out” in rallies called by left-wing and anti-racism groups in Athens.
On Thursday, Ilias Kasidiaris, a Golden Dawn MP, was filmed hitting a left-wing politician during a chatshow.
The rally comes nine days before elections which could result in a Greek exit from the Eurozone.
In polls a month ago, Golden Dawn surprised many by winning 21 seats in Greece’s 300-seat parliament.
A second election is taking place as no party was able to forge a coalition.
Prosecutors said an arrest warrant has been issued for Ilias Kasidiaris, whose whereabouts remain unknown after he fled the television studio on Thursday.
The assault took place during a live debate on a daily morning political show on the private Antenna television.
It started after Rena Dourou of the radical left-wing Syriza party mentioned Ilias Kasidiaris’s alleged involvement in an armed robbery in 2007.
He jumped up and threw a glass of water across the table at her, a You Tube clip of the Antenna television channel showed.
When Liana Kanelli of the Greek Communist party, the KKE, apparently threw a newspaper at him, he responded by slapping her around the face with three right-left blows.
Speaking to a TV station from an undisclosed location on Friday, Ilias Kasidiaris said he had been provoked.
“She [Communist party member Liana Kanelli] raised her hand and hit me first and since I respect my honor and my name, I had to defend myself. The police ought to arrest her,” he told Star TV, according to Reuters news agency.
The government and other political parties have condemned the attack.
“The government condemns in the most categorical way the attack by Golden Dawn spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris against Liana Kanelli and Rena Dourou,” government spokesman Dimitris Tsiodras said.
“This attack is an attack against every democratic citizen.”
Ilias Kasidiaris is already facing charges of theft and bodily harm, which he denies.
Golden Dawn campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform, and has even proposed planting mines along Greek borders to prevent the entry of migrants. It has been accused of violent attacks against immigrants in Athens, but denies the claims.
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