Surge in hate crimes divides Greek coalition

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Members and supporters of the extreme right party Golden Dawn march in central Athens on May 29, during a rally marking the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453.  (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

by Derek Gatopoulos
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s coalition government was in disarray Thursday over efforts to crackdown on growing racist violence, as majority conservatives and their center-left partners clashed over the best way to tackle anti-immigrant violence.

The embarrassing rift in conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ government occurred amid pressure from the European Union and human rights groups to toughen anti-racism laws.

Greece, in its sixth year of recession — and with the highest number of immigrants entering the European Union illegally — has seen a sharp rise in violence against non-European immigrants, as well as a surge in support for the xenophobic and extreme right Golden Dawn Party.

Samaras’ center-right New Democracy party refused to endorse draft legislation overhauling laws on racial equality, and instead submitted more limited amendments to laws passed in 1979.

But his coalition partners, the Socialist Pasok party and Democratic Left, submitted the more extensive proposals as a private members bill.

“What matters is that we unite political parties and the people against the Nazis, and not to let the danger of neo-Nazism divide us,” Samaras said in a written statement.

Formed after general elections last June, the ruling coalition cannot pass legislation without some form of cross-party support.

The European Union, as well as international Jewish groups, have urged Greece to tackle racism by criminalizing incitement to commit racial violence among other measures.

The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch on Thursday also urged the swift adoption of measures against racial violence.

“With people being attacked on the streets, Greece urgently needs to beef up its criminal justice response to hate crimes,” Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch said.

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