Updated at: 01/19/2013 3:07 PM
By DEREK GATOPOULOS and DEMETRIS NELLAS
(AP) ATHENS, Greece - Several thousand people marched through central Athens on Saturday to protest a spate of anti-immigrant attacks in Greece, including the fatal stabbing of a 27-year-old Pakistani immigrant by suspected right-wing extremists.
Earlier in the day about 150 members of Greece’s Pakistani community and a handful of Greeks gathered outside Athens City Hall to say prayers and pay their respects to Shehzad Luqman, the Pakistani who died Thursday. His coffin was displayed on the ground while mourners unfurled a banner in Greek and English reading "Punishment to the fascist murderers of Shehzad Luqman." A hearse took the coffin away at the end of the ceremony.
"We want to be peaceful. We are simple workers, and we will not do what the fascists do. In the last three years they have attacked 700 to 800 people. ... We go to our jobs and they attack us. It’s the job of the police to arrest these people and send them to jail," Javied Aslam, head of Greece’s Pakistani community, said after the prayers.
Greece has been suffering a surge in anti-immigration sentiment during its 3-year-old economic crisis, which has demolished living standards and led to high unemployment. The country also has long been the main gateway for illegal immigrants entering the European Union, with up to one-tenth of the nation’s population born abroad.
Saturday’s march was to be followed by a concert at Athens’ Syntagma square.
London-based anti-racism campaigner Sasha Simic said he traveled to Greece to attend the demonstration.
"I’m here to show solidarity with Greek people fighting against Golden Dawn, an openly fascist organization that is trying to exploit the misery of the crisis that the bankers have caused to scapegoat immigrants, to scapegoat gay people, to scapegoat anybody that doesn’t fit into their political schema. We know what happened in the 1930s with the rise of the Nazis. ... We are here to stop them," Simic told The Associated Press.
Golden Dawn, the ultra-right party running on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform, entered Parliament for the first time last June, polling nearly 7 percent of the vote and capitalizing on locals’ resentment over a largely uncontrolled influx of immigrants that they blame for rising joblessness and crime.
Golden Dawn won only 0.29 percent of the vote in a 2009 national election, but the next year it secured a seat at the Athens City Council, polling well in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. As its following has since grown, the party has tried to distance itself from its neo-Nazi roots, emphasizing its "patriotic" ideology.
Two Greek men in their 20s have been charged with Luqman’s murder. They have admitted carrying out the killing but said their attack was the unfortunate result of an unintended escalation of a heated argument that started when Luqman’s bicycle blocked the motorbike they were riding on.
But police sources said the suspects had taken off their motorbike’s license plate and that a search of one of the suspect’s houses found Golden Dawn pamphlets and that several knives turned up in both their homes. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the investigation.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)