An extreme-right political party in Greece played a Nazi anthem during a charity event Wednesday which the authorities had attempted to ban.
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A Greek version of the Nazi Horst Wessel song – known as "keep the banner flying" in Greek – was played on loudspeakers outside the central Athens offices of the Golden Dawn party, where members handed out bags of food and clothing. Horst Wessel was the unofficial anthem of the Nazis and the song is banned in Germany, along with Nazi symbols.
A video of the event, in which the song is clearly audible, was posted on the party's website.
Party members distributed the food parcels after checking recipients' identity cards to make sure that non-Greeks were excluded.
Golden Dawn, which has campaigned aggressively against illegal immigration and Greece's international economic bailout, has seen a surge in support during the current financial crisis and the dramatic rise in poverty and unemployment in Greece.
The party won nearly 7 percent of the vote in general elections last year, with popular support continuing to rise, according to opinion polls.
City authorities and the Greek police had banned Golden Dawn from using a nearby square to stage Wednesday's charity event and set up a large police cordon to prevent protests against the decision. But large crowds of supporters gathered outside the party building chanting, "Foreigners out of Greece."
"The crime we committed was that we wanted to hand out food to Greeks only. If we'd handed it out to Pakistanis and blacks, there would have been no problem," party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos told supporters.
Wednesday's event was held on the 39th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece, following the collapse of a 1967-74 military dictatorship. "We didn't choose this day by coincidence," Michaloliakos said. "They say they are celebrating the return of democracy. But they are really celebrating state thievery, scandals, and treason."
Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias described Golden Dawn as a "pathetic copy of Nazi totalitarianism" and officials condemned the choice of date. Panos Skourletis, a spokesman for the main left-wing opposition party Syriza, called Michaloliakos' comments and the playing of the Nazi anthem a "provocation to democracy."
"They are trying to align problems that people face in Greek society with their own message of hatred and Nazism," Skourletis told The Associated Press. "Golden Dawn will only be weakened when the causes of [Greece's] deep humanitarian crisis are addressed and stopped."