Riot police and anti-fascist protesters in Greece have clashed in central Athens, leaving at least two people injured.
Police said more than 3,000 supporters of the extreme-right Golden Dawn party held a rally on Saturday to commemorate a 1996 dispute over an uninhabited Aegean Sea island that brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war.
Saturday’s rally was largely peaceful, but violent clashes were triggered by the counter-demonstration, staged by leftist groups protesting against the Golden Dawn rally.
Last November, the government began a crackdown on Golden Dawn following the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist musician in Athens.
The fate of the party is being closely watched ahead of the May vote – where it is expected to perform strongly due to a wave of anger against government cuts – amid speculation of new efforts to rein in the group, which denies it is neo-Nazi.
Despite the crackdown, the party has said it will find a way to contest local and European elections in May, a senior Golden Dawn MP told a defiant crowd of a few thousand supporters in central Athens.
Party closely watched
“We will participate in the elections, one way or another,” Ilias Kasidiaris told about 3,000 supporters rallying in Athens.
Kasidiaris is the most prominent public face of the party since the arrest of its leader, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos.
Golden Dawn remains Greece’s third-most popular party. Two polls published last week showed the party would get 8.9 percent to 10.3 percent of the vote if elections were held now.
Kasidiaris, who plans to run for Athens mayor in May, suggested that a new party, National Dawn, could replace Golden Dawn if it was prevented from running in the election.
Black-clad supporters waved Greek flags and unfurled a banner with the face of Mihaloliakos and chanted “traitors” against the government. Some handed out leaflets advertising National Dawn.
Golden Dawn entered parliament for the first time in 2012, tapping resentment against illegal immigrants and politicians blamed for a crisis that has forced millions out of work and plunged the economy into a six-year recession.
Six of the party’s 18 MPs, including Mihaloliakos, are in pre-trial detention over a probe into Golden Dawn and a string of attacks against immigrants and political opponents.