Police shakeup in wake of clampdown on Golden Dawn

Two senior officers of the Greek Police (ELAS) resigned, another four were suspended and eight were moved out of key posts Monday as part of a crackdown on the ultra-right Golden Dawn and an investigation into possible links between the party and the force.

On the orders of Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, ELAS launched an internal probe to determine whether any police officers should be held accountable for failing to collect evidence and arrest suspects following a search of the Golden Dawn office in Halkida, north of Athens, last Friday. Seven suspected Golden Dawn members were detained but then released, according to sources.

The probe was ordered following the failure of police to intervene when individuals armed with clubs were seen on Friday night outside the party’s Halkida office, which is close to the regional police precinct.

A ministry statement on Monday announced the resignations of two senior officials – the general inspector for southern Greece, Lieutenant General Yiannis Dikopoulos, and the director of police for central Greece, Brigadier General Apostolos Kaskanis, attributing them simply to “personal reasons.” The statement added that four local police officers – the local police chief, the head of the Halkida precinct, the duty officer who had been working last Friday and a patrol officer – had been suspended pending the outcome of the probe.

Later in the day, ELAS issued a statement heralding the transfer of seven police officers from key posts with the aim of “ensuring the objectivity of the internal affairs investigation.” The officers removed from their posts are the heads of the police’s special forces, internal security, organized crime and explosives units, as well as the chief of the riot police unit in Keratsini, southwest of Athens – near where leftist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas was fatally stabbed by a supporter of Golden Dawn last Tuesday – the head of the police precinct in nearby Nikaia, and the head of the police’s Delta rapid-response unit.

The move to purge the police force of any influence from Golden Dawn is part of the government’s conscious strategy to squeeze the far-right party as much as possible. Dendias obtained the approval of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras for the changes in police personnel, sources said. However, there was also concern within the government that the sweeping changes announced by the minister could end up backfiring by causing unrest within the police.

Trying to rid the force of far-right elements is only one part of a multipronged approach being adopted by the government. Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou is examining ways of making stricter the laws for hate crimes that have racist, political or nationalist motives. The amendments to current legislation are due to be submitted to Parliament within the next few days.

Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis is drafting legislation that would prevent parliamentary parties, such as Golden Dawn, from receiving the state funding they are entitled to if they are involved in illegal activities.

So far, however, Samaras’s office has rejected calls for a meeting between party leaders to discuss the issue. The idea has been put on ice until the premier returns from a six-day visit to the USA, which starts on Saturday.

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