Police use water cannon during a protest in Athens.
Police use water cannon during a protest in Athens.
PIC: AFP

A Greek court has ruled that the far-right Golden Dawn party was operating as a criminal organisation, delivering a landmark verdict in a marathon five-year trial.

The court on Wednesday delivered guilty verdicts against several of the party's former lawmakers for participating in a criminal organization, and deemed others guilty of leading a criminal organization.

The 68 defendants in the trial include 18 former lawmakers from the party that was founded in the 1980s as a neo-Nazi organization and rose to become Greece's third largest party in parliament during the country's decade-long financial crisis.

The court has been assessing four cases rolled into one: the fatal stabbing of Greek rap singer Pavlos Fyssas, attacks on migrant fishermen, attacks on left-wing activists and whether Golden Dawn was operating as a criminal organization.

The presiding judge of the three-member panel began reading the verdicts shortly after 11:30 a.m., delivering a guilty verdict against Giorgos Roupakias for the murder of Fyssas. That prompted applause inside the courtroom and among the crowd outside. Roupakias had been accused of being a party supporter who delivered the fatal stab wounds to Fyssas.

Party leader Nikos Michaloliakos and 17 other former parliamentary members face at least 10 years in prison if convicted of charges of leading or participating in a criminal organization. Dozens of others on trial, party members and alleged associates, face convictions on charges that range from murder to perjury - most linked to a spate of violent attacks in 2013.

Only 11 of the 68 defendants were present in the courtroom, with the rest represented by their lawyers. None of the former Golden Dawn lawmakers were in court.

Security is tight, with around 2,000 police deployed, as well as a drone and a police helicopter. The avenue outside the Athens courthouse is closed off to traffic and the building itself blocked off by a string of police buses.

More than 10,000 people, including politicians from all political parties, gathered outside the courthouse. The crowd waved banners with slogans including "Fyssas lives, crush the Nazis," and chanted "The people demand the Nazis in jail." Representatives of parties across the political spectrum, from the governing conservative New Democracy party to Greece's Communist Party, were outside the courthouse.

"The war against violence and hate is constant," said New Democracy's Giorgos Stergiou, noting it was under a New Democracy government that the prosecution of Golden Dawn began.

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