KERATSINI, Greece (AP) — Violent clashes broke out in several Greek cities Wednesday after a 34-year-old musician described as an anti-fascist activist was stabbed to death by a man who said he belonged to the far-right Golden Dawn party.
The death of Pavlos Fyssas drew condemnation from across Greece’s political spectrum and from abroad. While the extremist Golden Dawn has been blamed for numerous violent attacks in the past, the overnight stabbing is the most serious violence so far directly attributed to a member.
Golden Dawn leader Nicholas Michaloliakos denied that the party had anything to do with the stabbing.
Fyssas, a hip-hop singer whose stage name was Killah P, died in a state hospital early Wednesday after being stabbed twice outside a cafe in the Keratsini area west of Athens.
A 45-year-old man arrested at the scene admitted to attacking Fyssas and said he belonged to Golden Dawn, police said. A knife with traces of blood was found near his car.
Clashes broke out Wednesday evening between riot police and thousands of protesters holding anti-fascist demonstrations in Fyssas’ memory in Keratsini and another three cities.
In Keratsini, police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters who local media said had attempted to attack the police station. Demonstrators hurled rocks and gasoline bombs at riot police and set fire to dumpsters to create street barricades as passers-by fled for cover.
Similar scenes played out in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, where about 6,000 demonstrators marched. Greek media also reported violent clashes in the western city of Patras, in the northeastern city of Xanthi, in the central city of Larissa and in Chania on the southern island of Crete.
At the scene, where blood still stained the sidewalk, friends of the victim and residents left flowers and candles. The head of a small right-wing opposition party, Panos Kamenos of the Independent Greeks, was briefly assaulted by protesters when he attempted to visit the site.
Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, whose Socialist party is part of the coalition government, said Golden Dawn had “surpassed every limit.”
“Golden Dawn has violence as its priority and must be dealt with as a criminal organization,” he said.
Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said Greek authorities should examine the possibility of banning the party altogether.
“Golden Dawn’s openly xenophobic, neo-Nazi hatred even goes as far as murdering political opponents. This is shocking and intolerable by any standards, and more so in a European Union country,” he said.
The rights group Amnesty International called on Greek authorities to prevent any further violence.
“Politically motivated violence of this kind is unacceptable anywhere, and history has shown the grim consequences if it goes unchecked. The Greek authorities must send a clear message that attacks like this will not be tolerated,” said Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty’s deputy Europe and Central Asia program director.
The suspect, who was not named in accordance with Greek law, appeared before a prosecutor later Wednesday, along with his wife, who was arrested on suspicion of concealing evidence to impede the investigation. A Golden Dawn party member and his wife also appeared in court alongside them on similar charges. Five prosecutors have been assigned to the case.
Golden Dawn, whose senior members have expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler although they deny being a neo-Nazi group, won nearly 7 percent of the vote in the general election last year. Recent opinion polls show its support has since risen to around 12 percent.
Party members and supporters, often clearly identifiable in black T-shirts and combat pants, have been blamed for beatings and stabbings across the country, usually of dark-skinned migrants. In January, two men identified as party sympathizers were arrested for the fatal stabbing of a Pakistani migrant worker.
But Wednesday’s killing was the first attributed to a Golden Dawn member, and the most severe attributed to political rather than racial motives.
The party’s deputies have also frequently engaged in outbursts and name-calling in Parliament, most recently insulting Muslim members of Parliament as Turkish agents.
“I am shaken by the event,” Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said of Wednesday’s attack. The killing and recent violent incidents “show in the clearest possible way the intentions of the neo-Nazi creation.”
Golden Dawn, which denies it had any involvement in the stabbing, said party offices in the western city of Patras and on the island of Crete were attacked by groups wielding batons and throwing petrol bombs.
Michaloliakos, the Golden Dawn head, said his party “unreservedly condemns the murder of the 34-year-old at Keratsini and denies any involvement of the party.”
“All the political parties must assume their responsibilities and not create a climate of civil war, giving a political character to a tragic event,” he said.
Police spokesman Christos Parthenis said the suspect drove to the scene of an altercation between two groups of people, got out of the car and stabbed Fyssas. Friends of the victim told Greek media they had been attacked by a large group of men as they left a cafe.
Golden Dawn lawmaker Michalis Avranitis said the victim and the suspect had initially argued about a soccer match.
“Yes, this man, as it turns out, has declared himself to be a member of Golden Dawn. But Golden Dawn has 1 million supporters,” Avranitis said in Parliament. “If, in a restaurant, two drunken idiots have a fight and someone is stabbed, should we look at their ideology and blame that?”
AP bureau chief Elena Becatoros reported from Athens. Costas Kantouris contributed from Thessaloniki.