Greek far-right leader imprisoned pending trial

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Lawmaker of extremist right-wing Golden Dawn Christos Pappas, center, who the prosecution has described as the party's second in command, is escorted by anti-terror police to appear in court for his preliminary hearing in Athens, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. Nikos Michaloliakos, the head of Greece's extremist right-wing Golden Dawn party was jailed early Thursday, pending trial on charges of running a criminal organization in an investigation into his political party triggered by the killing of a left-wing rapper. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The head of Greece's Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party and one of his lawmakers were locked up in a maximum-security Athens prison Thursday, after judges ordered their detention pending trial on charges of running a criminal organization.

Nikos Michaloliakos, 56, and Yiannis Lagos will be held in a secluded section of the Korydallos Prison's women's section, without contact with any other prisoners for fear they might be attacked. They are the first sitting members of a Parliament to be jailed since the fall of the 1967-1974 military dictatorship — which Golden Dawn openly praises.

Ironically, their cells are close to, but isolated from, those where convicted members of the far-left November 17 terrorist group are held.

Once far beyond the pale, the extremist party has risen to become the third most popular in depression-ravaged Greece, despite widespread accusations it organizes attacks on immigrants, political opponents and gays.

The party's top ideologue, Christos Pappas, was also ordered remanded in prison late Thursday.

Another three of Golden Dawn's 18 lawmakers have been arrested in an investigation sparked by the Sept. 17 fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist musician by a party supporter. They have been released pending trial, and forbidden to leave the country.

All the defendants deny wrongdoing, and claim the charges are politically motivated.

"The accusations are made-up and totally baseless," a party statement said Thursday.

Golden Dawn was elected to Parliament last June with 426,025 votes, or nearly 7 percent of the vote, on a wave of anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiment amid the worst economic crisis in 50 years, 28 percent unemployment and a surge in crime linked with unchecked migrant inflows. Golden Dawn has angrily denied that it organizes or encourages violence, often with the apparent collusion of some police elements, and that it maintains a neo-Nazi agenda.

Michaloliakos was ordered to remain in custody earlier Thursday. As he was marched by anti-terrorism police out of the courthouse, he shouted "Long live victory!" — a direct translation of the Nazi "Sieg Heil" slogan that Golden Dawn is fond of using.

In a crackdown launched since the Athens musician's murder, authorities have arrested more than two dozen people, including several police officers who face charges ranging from illegal weapons and ammunition possession, to abuse of power.

Police searches of senior party officials' homes turned up illegal firearms, posters of Adolf Hitler and assorted Nazi memorabilia.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' conservative-led government has pledged to "eradicate" Golden Dawn, and has submitted draft legislation that would allow suspension of its state funding. Next week, the government will also table a draft law to toughen penalties for perpetrators of racist crimes.