ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's government was submitting legislation to Parliament Monday aimed at cutting state funding to the extreme right-wing Golden Dawn party, whose leadership was arrested over the weekend on charges of acting as a criminal organization.
Under the legislation, state funding would be suspended for a party if any members of its leadership or lawmakers are being prosecuted for felonies. The government crackdown was sparked by the Sept. 17 fatal stabbing 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.
Golden Dawn, a formerly fringe nationalist group with neo-Nazi roots, enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity during Greece's financial crisis. 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. "Therefore 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.
Six Golden Dawn lawmakers, 14 other members and two police officers have been arrested and are being held in custody pending court appearances, while arrest warrants have been issued for 10 more people.
It 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 lawmakers 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 elections in their constituencies.
But government officials have been dismissive of the threat, saying the constitution has enough safeguards that it could avoid holding repeat votes.
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.
A report from a Supreme Court prosecutor into the group used for the prosecution of its top members lays out serious allegations against the party leadership, including involvement in murder, attempted murder, carrying out explosions, possessing explosives and robbery.