Hundreds of people held a rally against racism and fascism in central Athens on Saturday as mourners gathered to pray over the body of a man killed in a suspected racist attack.
Nearly 3,000 people, according to state broadcaster NET, joined the peaceful protest that ended with a concert and was organised amid a nationwide surge in xenophobic sentiment.
“I have been the victim of a racist attack and when I tried to complain about it I was arrested. Police are the same as Nazis,” 35-year-old Gildas Batola from Congo told AFP at the rally organised by groups including municipalities, migrant communities and the radical left main opposition party Syriza.
“I have been spat on, I’ve been told to go home because my boyfriend is from Tanzania,” said 38-year-old Tracy Roberts from the UK.
“Sometimes they (police) stop my boyfriend, lock him up for several hours for no reason,” she added.
Protesters carried banners reading: “Fascism never again”, “End to racist attacks”, “Out with neo-Nazis” — also a gay flag was thrown into the mix.
“The message today is a strong reaction against racist murders which take place here,” said Benjamin Abtan, president of the Paris-based European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) that organised the previous Athens anti-racism march in December.
“All over Europe people look here to support people who fight against neo-Nazism and racism,” he added.
Earlier this week, police arrested a 29-year-old firefighter and another man, 25, for the murder of a 27-year-old Pakistani migrant in Athens, in what was feared to be a racism-fuelled crime.
Election propaganda leaflets of neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were found at the 25-year-old’s home.
The accused said they had had an argument with the victim, who was reportedly on a bicycle on his way to work.
The Pakistani community in Greece held a prayer gathering in memory of the deceased at Kotzia square in central Athens Saturday before joining the anti-racism rally.
A coffin with the dead man’s body was at the centre of the prayer meeting attended by about 150 people, according to an AFP photographer.
Pakistanis who took part in the rally called for the “punishment of the fascist murderers”.
“There is no room for racism in Greek society,” Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias said Friday at an event organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
International human rights groups have warned of a surge in xenophobic attacks on migrants in Greece, where economic hardship and a sixth year of recession have fuelled the rise of the far-right.
In a Greek first, Golden Dawn earlier this year saw 18 deputies elected to the country’s 300-seat parliament. Recent polls indicate the party’s popularity has since risen to over 10 percent.
In November, the US Embassy in Athens warned Americans to be wary of violent attacks targeting perceived foreign migrants.
On Friday, EGAM called on Greek authorities to stick to their promise to keep neo-Nazis out of the Council of Europe.
The council promotes cooperation between European states on human rights.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy party, the socialists Pasok, the moderate Democratic Left as well as Syriza have said they are in favour of a Greek parliamentary delegation to the Council that excludes Golden Dawn.