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Greek PM calls for calm amid rising anger at Golden Dawn party

From Elinda Labropoulou, for CNN
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
Anti-fascist protesters hold signs reading
Anti-fascist protesters hold signs reading "Neo-Nazis Out" at a rally in Athens on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prime minister calls for calm after clashes in an Athens suburb
  • Leftist protesters clashed with police after the death of a popular anti-fascist figure
  • A nationalist Golden Dawn party supporter is accused of killing leftist activist Pavlos Fyssas
  • Government leaders renew calls to ban the party, which has grown in influence

Athens, Greece (CNN) -- Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras pleaded for calm Thursday after rising anger at Greece's right-wing Golden Dawn party exploded into violence in a working-class Athens suburb.

"This is not a time for internal fighting, nor for tension," Samaras said in the televised speech.

"Any political differences should be resolved through democratic dialogue, not fiery arguments, nor violence, no matter where it stems from."

On Wednesday, crowds protesting the earlier stabbing death of a popular anti-fascist figure in Keratsini -- allegedly at the hands a Golden Dawn supporter -- hurled rocks at police and burned trash bins outside their station.

The clashes came despite police raids of Golden Dawn offices and the arrest of a 45-year-old party supporter who police say admitted killing Pavlos Fyssas, a well-known hip-hop artist with the stage name Killah P.

Fyssas' death inflamed already growing concerns about the rising influence of Golden Dawn, an ultranationalist, anti-immigration party that has been linked to street violence and neo-Nazism.

In 2012, the party rode a wave of dissatisfaction among some Greeks over internationally imposed austerity measures amid the country's deep financial crisis, winning 7% of the vote and gaining seats in parliament for the first time.

READ: Greek minister: Country may need extra 10 billion euros

Golden Dawn MP Ilias Kassidiaris denied his party's involvement in Fyssas' death, calling it a "heinous crime."

He accused politicians of "exploiting a tragic event to win votes and divide Greek society."

The singer's death has nevertheless led to renewed calls to ban Golden Dawn.

Greek Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias described the killing as an "abominable murder ... by an attacker who, according to his own statement, sympathizes with Golden Dawn, thus illustrating in the most obvious way the intentions of neo-Nazism."

Dendias said the government is looking to amend the country's criminal code to make it easier to prosecute political attacks and better define what constitutes an "armed gang."

READ: Europe's public health disaster: How austerity kills

Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, whose socialist Pasok party is part of the governing coalition, said Golden Dawn "must be dealt with as a criminal organization."

And an Austrian member of the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, also urged lawmakers to ban the party

"Golden Dawn's openly xenophobic, neo-Nazi hatred goes as far as murdering political opponents. This is shocking and intolerable by any standards, and more so in a European Union country," he said.

In his speech Thursday, Samaras called Fyssas' death an "inhuman assassination" and said the government is "determined to not allow the descendants of the Nazis to poison our social life, to commit crimes, terrorize and undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy."

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