ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's prime minister pledged Monday to do "whatever it takes" to eradicate the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, whose leadership was arrested over the weekend on charges of acting as a criminal organization after a fatal stabbing.
Condemning Golden Dawn as a "neo-Nazi" group, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras promised zero tolerance for the party, which has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity during Greece's crippling financial crisis.
"We are dedicated in completely eradicating such a shame," Samaras said in a speech at the American Jewish Committee in New York. "We must do it within the context of our democratic constitution. But we have to go all the way and do whatever it takes. There is no room for the neo-Nazis in any part of the democratic world."
The government crackdown was sparked by the Sept. 17 slaying of Greek anti-fascist hip-hop singer Pavlos Fyssas in an attack blamed on a Golden Dawn supporter.
The party has vehemently denied any involvement in the killing.
Samaras' conservative-led coalition government says it will submit legislation to Parliament this week aimed at cutting state funding to Golden Dawn. The draft law would suspend state funding to a party if any members of its leadership or lawmakers are being prosecuted for felonies.
Golden Dawn is a formerly fringe nationalist group with neo-Nazi roots and a barely-concealed for Nazi symbolism, literature and anthems. But it strongly denies the neo-Nazi label, highlighting its nationalist anti-immigrant agenda.
With 18 lawmakers in the 300-member Parliament, it is slated to receive more than 873,000 euros ($1.18 million) in 2013.
"Democracy cannot fund its rivals," said Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos. "When you have a criminal organization which is operating inside a political party, there must be sanctions regarding funding."
Under the new legislation, funding would be suspended pending the outcome of a trial, Venizelos said Monday.
Six Golden Dawn lawmakers — including its top two officials— 14 other members and two police officers have been arrested and are being held in custody pending court appearances. Arrest warrants have also been issued for 10 more people.
Golden Dawn lawmaker Christos Pappas turned himself in Sunday to authorities in Athens. Police announced Monday that a search of his home in the northern town of Ioannina had uncovered two unlicensed handguns, a bayonet, brass knuckles, two helmets with 'SS' and swastika insignia, several flags with swastikas and a photograph of Adolf Hitler with the words Golden Dawn across the top, among other items.
This is the first time since the 1974 restoration of democracy after a military dictatorship that sitting members of a Greek Parliament have been arrested.
The Golden Dawn lawmakers will retain their seats in Parliament unless they are convicted or resign. The party has hinted it could have all its lawmakers resign and leave the seats empty in an attempt to trigger local elections.
But government officials have been dismissive of the threat, saying the constitution has enough safeguards.
Since its 2012 election success, Golden Dawn has been blamed for numerous violent attacks, mostly against dark-skinned immigrants but also against gays and left-wing activists.
In a report, a Supreme Court prosecutor has laid out serious allegations against the party's leadership, including involvement in murder, attempted murder, carrying out explosions, possessing explosives and robbery.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Paphitis contributed.