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Greek neo-Nazi chief pleads innocence in murder trial

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Athens (AFP)

The leader of Greece's notorious neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn on Wednesday denied any responsibility for the murder of an anti-fascist rapper, in the politician's first appearance at a long-running trial involving dozens of defendants.

Nikos Michaloliakos is one of nearly 70 defendants, who each face between five to 20 years in prison over the 2013 killing of rapper Pavlos Fyssas and other alleged crimes by Golden Dawn members.

"I wish to declare my innocence of the charges, which are a result of a political plot," Michaloliakos told the trial, which has already been going on for four years.

The main charge against them is participation in a criminal organisation, in addition to a host of other indictments related to murder and assault.

"There is no criminal organisation... I gave no order to murder. It's all a pack of lies," said the 61-year-old mathematician.

Michaloliakos is accused of instigating a wave of violence that culminated in the fatal stabbing of 34-year-old Fyssas, a self-declared enemy of the group, in September 2013.

Based on records of phone conversations between Golden Dawn members the night Fyssas was murdered, prosecutors argue the attack was carried out with the knowledge of senior party members.

They say it was part of a broader pattern of violence organised by the party against migrants and political opponents -- including beatings of Egyptian fishermen in 2012 and communist trade unionists in 2013.

According to the prosecutors, "militia" were set up of men dressed in black and wearing swastikas who patrolled the streets in Athens.

But Michaloliakos told the court: "There weren't any militia."

Media reported that the defendant was booed by anti-fascist activists as he entered the packed court room on Wednesday.

Outside the court building, protesters shouted "murderer" and "Pavlos lives".

- 'Figure of speech' -

Throughout his testimony, Michaloliakos -- a Holocaust denier and protege of Greece's former dictator Georgios Papadopoulos -- denied that the party had a Nazi-inspired ideology.

"Since 1992 we identify as nationalists, not Nazis," he said, calling the case against his party a "Frankenstein-style" patchwork of charges.

But a search of party members' homes in 2013 uncovered Nazi and fascist memorabilia, as well as firearms and other weapons.

Some of the Golden Dawn leader's replies often elicited incredulous looks by the presiding judge, Maria Lepeniotou, and sniggers from the public gallery.

When prosecutors questioned him on his party's ideology and operations, Michaloliakos denied that Golden Dawn operated combat squads and said the party's adherence to military-style discipline was "a figure of speech".

"I did not exhort anyone to violence," he said, noting that even the French national anthem "talks about the blood of enemies spilling in the streets".

At the height of its popularity in 2015, Golden Dawn was Greece's third-strongest party, winning more than 370,000 votes.

But its fortunes collapsed in July's general election. For the first time in seven years, it failed to win a parliamentary seat.

A verdict is expected later this year.

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