ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The jailed head of Greece's Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn party insisted Wednesday that a judicial crackdown on the party is an establishment plot aimed to sap its growing popularity.
Nikos Michaloliakos addressed a plenary session of Parliament during a debate on lifting his immunity on additional weapons charges, as about 600 party supporters shouted slogans outside.
"I am the head of Greece's third-largest party," Michaloliakos said during a blustering speech in which he told the Parliament speaker to "shut up!" Golden Dawn lawmakers repeatedly shouted abuse at other lawmakers before walking out ahead of the vote.
"You have drawn up charges with your eyes on opinion polls," Michaloliakos added. "You have kept me in prison, unfairly, for eight entire months ... Golden Dawn is the victim of a political plot."
The party, now Greece's third most popular, rocketed out of the margins on a wave of anti-austerity and anti-immigrant sentiment amid the country's acute financial crisis. In national elections two years ago, it gained 18 of Parliament's 300 seats.
Michaloliakos and another two of the six far right lawmakers jailed pending trial for allegedly running a criminal organization arrived in Parliament earlier Wednesday from a maximum security Athens prison where they have been held for more than eight months.
They denied any wrongdoing, arguing that unlicensed firearms found in their homes were for their personal protection.
"I was a target of terrorists," Michaloliakos said.
All 18 lawmakers elected on the Golden Dawn ticket — two of whom have since left the party — have been charged with running a criminal organization, as part of an investigation following last year's killing of a left-wing musician by a Golden Dawn supporter.
They deny the charges. No trial date has been set.