ATHENS, Aug 29 (Reuters) - A prominent member of the Greek far-right party Golden Dawn who is in pre-trial detention over illegal gun possession was sworn in as an Athens councillor on Friday, becoming the first to gain the post while held behind bars.
The far-right Golden Dawn rose from obscurity to enter parliament for the first time in 2012, tapping a wave of anger over soaring unemployment and deep austerity cuts. That has been the price Greeks have paid for a 240 billion euro bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Golden Dawn remains Greece's third most popular party even after a government-led crackdown that has landed its top lawmakers in jail awaiting trial accused of being in a neo-Nazi criminal gang that attacks immigrants and leftist opponents.
They have denied the accusations and say that they are victims of a political witch-hunt.
"We wanted to put those thieves in jail, but they put us in first. It's ok, Greece always wins in the end," Ilias Kasidiaris shouted as he arrived flanked by police at the heavily guarded venue where the Athens council swearing-in ceremony took place.
Dozens of Golden Dawn supporters rallied outside the building waving Greek flags and chanting "Blood! Honour! Golden Dawn!" Anti-fascism protesters held a counter protest nearby.
Kasidiaris first shot to fame after slapping a female Communist lawmaker on live television before the 2012 vote. He came fourth in the Athens mayoral election in May, scoring 16 percent of the vote.
He was jailed pending trial in July, becoming the ninth Golden Dawn lawmaker to be sent behind bars since the crackdown began a year ago after a party supporter stabbed an anti-racism rapper.
Golden Dawn leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, who flashed a Nazi salute at an Athens municipal council session in 2010, was arrested after the stabbing and has been held in Athens' high-security prison since then.
The investigation has entered its final stage, according to court officials. A trial of more than 70 suspects, including Golden Dawn's 16 lawmakers, is expected to begin in November. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting by Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis, editing by Mark Heinrich)
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