ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party scuffled with police who stopped them distributing food exclusively to Greeks in Athens’ central square on Thursday ahead of the Greek Orthodox Easter holiday on May 5.
Television footage showed Golden Dawn members in their trademark black t-shirts hitting riot police on the head with rolled up Greek flags after being prevented from unloading eggs, bread, lamb to hand out in Syntagma Square.
Police responded with a brief burst of teargas.
Athens Mayor George Kaminis had banned the far-right party from conducting the handout in the square in front of parliament, calling it a “soup kitchen of hatred” because only those with a Greek identity card were eligible to receive food.
“Democracy will prevail,” said Kaminis. “Today the logic of violence, of thuggery, of ‘having my way’ was beaten.”
The party went ahead with the handout outside its offices, where hundreds gathered to collect potatoes and red Easter eggs.
Kaminis said a Golden Dawn lawmaker later tried to hit him but missed. Police confirmed they led away a Golden Dawn lawmaker who moved “menacingly” against the mayor, and said they are investigating accusations the lawmaker produced a weapon.
Golden Dawn rose from obscurity last year on a fiercely anti-immigrant and anti-corruption agenda, tapping into popular anger over austerity measures demanded by the country’s lenders and fears of rising crime.
Greeks have seen their living standards crumble as the country faces its sixth year of recession that has driven unemployment to record highs. Steep cuts to wages and pensions demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in return for the bailout funds keeping the economy afloat have left many unable to make ends meet.
Opinion polls indicate Golden Dawn would be the third biggest party in Greece if elections were held now. The party, whose leader denies the Holocaust and whose members have been seen given Nazi-style salutes, denies it is neo-Nazi as alleged by critics.
Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Deepa Babington and Sonya Hepinstall