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Biography of November 17 hitman sparks row over free speech

An autobiography written by the main hitman of the far-left Greek extremist organisation November 17 has sparked a row over freedom of speech.

The book by Dimitris Koufodinas, written whilst serving multiple life sentences in Korydallos prison near Athens and titled 'Born November 17', tracks his evolution from starry-eyed teenager to hardened killer.

It has sold 15,000 copies since its publication last week -- a lot for Greece, which rarely records high book sales -- but critics have accused the publishers of shamelessly exploiting the blood of those slain by the group.

November 17 launched dozens of attacks between 1975 and 2000 that killed 23 people, including the CIA station chief in Athens, several prominent Greek businessmen and the British military attache.

"November 17 members moved among the public, they listened to simple people talking of their problems, desires and grief...they became our ears and we gave them a voice," wrote 56-year-old Koufodinas, now a part-time beekeeper.

The group was dismantled in 2002 after a bomb exploded in the hands of one of its operatives.

Costas Bakoyannis was 11 years old when his father, a center-right politician, was gunned down by November 17 in 1989.

Today the mayor of Karpenissi in central Greece, he has accused the book's publishers of playing "games on the coffins" of November 17's victims.

It is "a book and proceeds covered in blood," he wrote in reaction to its publication.

But others have defended the publisher's rights to free speech.

The book's high sales "do not mean that people accept terrorism," said Vassiliki Georgiadou, a political scientist at Panteion University.

"Books are there to clarify events, whether one agrees or not," added Maria Papageorgiou, owner of an Athens bookstore.

The book's publishers, Livanis, say the subject matter is similar to November 17 attack tracts widely reprinted in the press for years.

"We believe that light should be shed on all aspects of Greek history," the group says in the editor's note.

"Publishing a book does not mean that the house shares the views of the authors."

Extremist activity has witnessed a revival in Greece during the economic crisis that has gripped the nation for the past six years.

In December, unknown attackers fired automatic rifle shots at the German ambassador's residence in Athens, a month after two members of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were killed and another seriously injured outside an Athens district office.

In January Christodoulos Xiros, another November 17 hitman, disappeared whilst on prison leave.

[AFP]

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