Golden Dawn party leader Nikos Mihaloliakos, seen here in May 2012, was arrested as part of a crackdown on the country's extreme-right party. Petros Giannakourism/Associated Press
Police in Greece arrested the leaders of an extreme right-wing political party this morning on charges of forming a criminal organization.
Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris and three other legislators were among the 17 party members arrested. Of the six legislators targeted, only one remains at large.
It is the first time since 1974 that a party head and sitting members of parliament have been arrested.
- Montreal chapter of Golden Dawn continues to stir controversy
Despite the arrests, the party's legislators retain their parliamentary seats unless they are convicted of a crime.
Golden Dawn holds 18 of parliament's 300 seats, after winning nearly seven per cent of the vote in general elections last year.
The arrests came 11 days after the killing of a left-wing activist rapper by an alleged Golden Dawn member.
Though the party has vehemently denied any role in the killing, it has appeared to dent its appeal among Greeks and the government has worked to crack down on the party.
The President of the Jewish Community of Athens Minos Moisis welcomed the arrests.
"It was quite long until it happened, because there has been a lot of tolerance to this racist and neo-nazi party, but nevertheless this happens," Moisis said.
"Now we need to be looking at this development with attention, we do not know exactly what will follow up. I hope this is a very decisive step towards democracy and justice in this country," he added.
Golden Dawn expressed outrage at the arrests in a text message to journalists and supporters gathered outside police headquarters in Athens to protest..
A formerly marginal organization with neo-Nazi roots, Golden Dawn entered the Greek parliament for the first time in May 2012, capitalizing on Greece's deep financial crisis, rising crime and anti-immigrant sentiment.
The party's members and supporters have frequently been suspected of carrying out violent attacks, mainly against immigrants. On Sept. 17, anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas was stabbed to death in Athens, allegedly by a Golden Dawn supporter. The incident sparked protests across the country.
Despite its reputation for violence, the party had enjoyed growing popularity.