ATHENS, March 15 (Reuters) - A Greek lawmaker resigned from the far-right Golden Dawn on Saturday, becoming the first MP to desert the party, which is being investigated over a series of violent attacks against immigrants and political opponents.
In a first crack in party unity, Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos said he had not been aware of the criminal activities that were revealed during the investigation that followed the fatal stabbing of an anti-fascist rapper by a party sympathiser in September. He also condemned the activities.
"I'm sorry that I did not act earlier, and that I did not differentiate my stance," Alexopoulos, 42, said in a letter to parliament, adding that he was now an independent lawmaker. "My conscience does not allow me to associate my patriotic and nationalist views with such actions and practices any longer."
Alexopoulos' resignation reduces the number of Golden Dawn seats in the 300-seat parliament to 17.
Golden Dawn issued a statement condemning Alexopoulos' decision and calling his stance "treacherous".
Following a request last month by the magistrates investigating the stabbing and the violent attacks, parliament is expected to decide in the coming weeks if it will lift the immunity from prosecution of more than half of Golden Dawn's lawmakers, including Alexopoulos, clearing the way for criminal charges to be brought against them.
Greek lawmakers are protected from prosecution and only parliament can lift their immunity.
So far, six Golden Dawn lawmakers, including party leader Nikolaos Mihaloliakos, are behind bars pending trial. They have all denied any wrongdoing.
Golden Dawn, which rose from obscurity to win 18 seats in parliament in 2012 on an anti-immigrant and anti-austerity agenda, remains Greece's third-most popular party despite the arrests. Its banner features a swastika-like emblem and its leader has denied the Holocaust took place, but the party says it is not neo-Nazi. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Susan Fenton)