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Golden Dawn: five things to know about Greece's 'neo-Nazi' party

The leader of Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party, Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, was jailed today pending trial – the latest move in the Greek government's crackdown against the racist political party, which has seen 21 of its members arrested, including five parliamentarians. Mr. Mihaloliakos himself faces charges of running a criminal organization. But just who is Golden Dawn and why is the government arresting its members?

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A member of the extreme right Golden Dawn party holds a flag bearing their party's logo during an election campaign rally in Athens in April 2012.

Yannis Behrakis/Reuters/File

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Who is Golden Dawn?

Golden Dawn is an extreme nationalist party in Greece that has risen to prominence in the last two years.

The party, with its anti-immigration rhetoric, provision of parallel social services, propensity for street violence, and, some say, Nazi-like logo has attracted attention the world over. It has frequently been linked to attacks on immigrants and leftists, and its politics are not only nationalistic and anti-immigrant, but markedly racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Turk, and anti-Semitic.

While it is very much a minority group, Golden Dawn's rise indicates a hardening of attitudes in Greece. 

Founded in 1987, but with a prehistory dating back to 1980, Golden Dawn was an insignificant party until well after the economic crisis hit, polling just 1 percent of the vote in 2009.

But in 2012, it tapped into Greek resentment over the austerity demanded by Europe in exchange for two bailouts and boosted its support to 7 percent, earning it 21 seats in Greece's 300-seat parliament. (A subsequent election reduced its seats to 18.)

A recent opinion poll, taken prior to the arrests, put the party's support at 15 percent, though most Greek sources say that has dropped to around 7 percent since the crackdown.

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