Greece under pressure to defend democracy

Greece came under pressure Friday from the Council of Europe to defend its democracy, faced with neo-Nazis and widespread xenophobic violence.

"We are very concerned by the specific threat to Greek democracy posed by (neo-Nazi party) Golden Dawn (...) I think that Greek democracy has to defend itself," Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks told a news conference.

"The problem is that if this threat is not addressed effectively now, it will be much more difficult to address it later on."

Muiznieks was speaking after a five-day visit aimed at countering acts of racist violence, more than 200 of which were reported between October 2011 and December last year.

He also examined the role of the Greek police, accused at best of inertia and at worst of collusion, and ways of limiting the influence of Golden Dawn (GD), the violent far-right party that entered parliament in June with 18 deputies and seven percent of the vote.

"The fundamental point is that the international reputation of Greece is at stake," he said of a nation which largely depends on tourism.

"It's in the interest of Greece's authorities to tackle racism effectively because it could hit their pocket-book," said the official, following a US warning to its nationals about xenophobic crimes in the streets of Greece.

Muiznieks, whose warnings follow numerous alerts by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said he had had to do an "awareness job" with politicians and justice officials to convince them of the seriousness of racist crimes.

Recognising that Greece was faced with a grave economic crisis and "unbearable migration pressure", Muiznieks stressed: "We don't want words but concrete prosecution".

"The first step would be serious prosecution of individual GD members for engaging in hate speech or acts of racism violence."

He demanded that victims of xenophobic attacks be freed of the risk of expulsion if they did not have papers.