Members of the extreme right Golden Dawn party have handed out food parcels outside the Greek parliament, but made sure only Greek citizens received the assistance.
Hundreds stood in line at Athens’ main Syntagma Square on Wednesday, showing IDs proving their citizenship to pick up their food.
Party volunteers dressed in black passed out milk, pasta, potatoes and olive oil in a one-day charity event critics said was meant to soften the image of a party likened by some to neo-Nazi groups.
With poverty and the unemployment rate rising, Golden Dawn has made inroads in the country’s political system with its vehement attacks against traditionally dominant parties and strongly anti-immigrant stance.
Its members have been accused of involvement in attacks against immigrants and some of its senior officials have publicly declared admiration for Adolf Hitler. The party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
Public support for the party has increased 20-fold since elections in 2009, and it won 18 seats in the country’s 300-seat parliament in June elections.
“Golden Dawn is a nationalist party and above all we are looking after Greeks,” Nikolaos Michos, a Golden Dawn parliament member, told the AP news agency.
“At night they beat people up. And by day, they hand out food.“
– Petros Constantinou, a left-wing Athens city councillor
Panayotis Panagiotopoulos, an unemployed man waiting for food on Wednesday, said he was grateful for the help and described Golden Dawn as representing “the soul of the Greek people”.
The party denies any involvement in a recent surge of street attacks against Asian immigrants in Athens and other cities, despite repeated claims to the contrary by migrant groups and human rights activists.
“At night they beat people up. And by day, they hand out food,” Petros Constantinou, a left-wing Athens city councillor, told AP.
“They are exploiting people’s misery to fish for votes. They are despicable.”
Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday talked junior partners in his fragile coalition government into dropping objections to new spending cuts demanded by the debt-crippled country’s bailout creditors, averting a crisis that could have forced Greece to abandon the euro.
Without the $14.14bn package of cuts for 2013 and 2014, Greece, which is going through its fifth year of recession, would lose access to the international loan programme that is protecting it from bankruptcy.
“The prime minister said that it must be accepted – as a necessary condition for our country to remain in the eurozone and to be able to negotiate further – to further cut public spending,” Yannis Stournaras, the finance minister, said.
He said negotiations with creditors would start now and announcements would be made toward the end of August on the full details of the cutbacks – which Greek officials say will include new reductions in pensions and benefits.