Greece alarmed by support for far-right maverick

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The Independent Online

A poll victory for Greece's opposition conservatives was overshadowed yesterday by the unexpected emergence of the far right in local elections.

A poll victory for Greece's opposition conservatives was overshadowed yesterday by the unexpected emergence of the far right in local elections.

Giorgos Karadzaferis, an ultra-nationalist maverick, defied pre-election surveys to take 13.6 per cent of the vote in the race to become Governor of Greater Athens, home to 40 per cent of the country's voters. A former member of the conservative opposition party New Democracy, Mr Karadzaferis was still unable to land a place in the second-round run-off next Sunday. That will be contested by socialist and conservative candidates.

But his 210,000 votes represented the highest level of support for a far-right candidate in 20 years. A similar showing in the general elections in 2004 would give the extreme right a parliamentary platform for the first time since the collapse of the military junta in 1974.

Analysts were blaming the rise in the far-right vote on New Democracy's anti-church stance in 2000 over the removal of religious denomination from identity cards.

Mr Karadzaferis was elected to parliament in April 2000, but expelled from New Democracy a month later because of his extreme and often racist views. He caused controversy by defending a neo-Nazi group that launched attacks on immigrants as "misunderstood".

He also made anti-Semitic statements about a former New Democracy leader whose father saved thousands of Greek Jews from deportation in the Second World War. He has now started his own party, Popular Orthodox Alarm, and airs his views on a nightly show on his small television station. The Athens daily Ethnos said: "This Karadzaferis phenomenon must be handled carefully by political parties so that it does not reach a worrying level."

The nationwide elections were the first under new laws mandating a one-third quota of female candidates. The conservative Dora Bakoyianni is favourite to become Athens' first female mayor after winning the first-round race.

New Democracy holds huge leads in most mayoral contests but the loss of the Greater Athens prefecture to the ruling socialist party Pasok enabled the government to escape a humiliation that could have forced early general elections.

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