ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s parliament voted to lift the immunity of six lawmakers from the far-right Golden Dawn party on Wednesday, paving the way for a deeper investigation into accusations the movement’s members were involved in criminal offences.
The killing of a left-wing rapper on September 17, which prosecutors said was carried out by a Golden Dawn supporter, triggered anti-fascist protests across the country.
Police started investigations into whether the party was involved in a string of violent attacks including the killing, and Greece’s top court charged six Golden Dawn lawmakers last month with belonging to a criminal group.
On Wednesday, lawmakers overwhelmingly backed prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of two people from that group - and four other Golden Dawn lawmakers.
The lifting of immunity would allow prosecutors to lay fresh charges against the named men - the September charges were made under a special court order that was only valid for 48 hours.
Greek lawmakers are protected from prosecution and in most cases only parliament can lift their immunity if they are suspected of criminal activity.
Golden Dawn, Greece’s third most popular party according to polls, has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the government of tactics not seen since the military junta more than four decades ago.
Its parliamentary group abstained from Wednesday’s vote.
“The thieves, crooks and those who destroyed the country and sold it off to foreign loan sharks are those who should stand trial,” said Kasidiaris. “We will not vote, we will abstain from this process.”
The party rose from obscurity to enter parliament for the first time last year on an anti-immigrant and anti-austerity agenda. The party’s banner features a swastika-like emblem and its leader has denied the Holocaust took place - though the groups says it is not neo-Nazi.
Members of parliament in Greece do not lose their seats unless there is a final court ruling against them. If convicted of criminal association, Golden Dawn lawmakers face 10 years in jail.
Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Andrew Heavens