ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's conservative government is facing growing pressure to support an anti-racism bill — aimed at curbing a surge in attacks against immigrants — as its center-left coalition partners and an international human rights group called for its immediate adoption.
Two minority parties backing the year-old government submitted draft legislation to parliament Thursday to criminalize racial incitement, defying conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who refused to endorse the bill.
The New York-based organization Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the swift adoption of measures to toughen measures against hate crimes and incitement to commit racially motivated violence.
International Jewish groups also urged Greece this week to adopt the law.
The political dispute broke out as support for the xenophobic, extreme right Golden Dawn party continued to rise in opinion surveys, and as rights groups document a growing number of racially motivated attacks against non-European immigrants.
"With people being attacked on the streets, Greece urgently needs to beef up its criminal justice response to hate crimes," said Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch.
"This draft law contains some good provisions and should be improved in parliament rather than delayed further."
Human Rights Watch, however, objected to provisions in the draft law that would criminalize the denial of Nazi war crimes and the expression racist views, and well the right of assembly of people holding those views.
A panel of experts appointed to advise parliament on new legislation also objected to those provisions in a report this week, describing them as potentially unconstitutional.
Late Wednesday, several thousand Golden Dawn supporters attended a rally in central Athens. Holding Greek flags and fire torches, the crowd chanted: "Foreigners out of Greece."
Campaigning aggressively against immigration and Greece's bailout agreement, Golden Dawn has reaped a surge in support in recent years. The party elected 18 members to the 300-member parliament in last year's general election with nearly 7 percent of the vote.
An opinion poll for private Mega television published this week suggested support for the extreme right party has risen to 10 percent.
The GPO survey of 1,200 adults, conducted May 24-27, found two-thirds regarded Golden Dawn as a threat to democracy, and half supported the anti-racism law. Fewer than 40 percent of those who voted for Samaras' center-right New Democracy in the last election back the proposed legislation.
"There is no doubt that this law is targeting Golden Dawn," Nikolaos Michaloliakos, leader of Golden Dawn's parliamentary contingent, said ahead of Wednesday's rally.
"Let them bring the law to parliament and we will see, finally, who is with Greece and who is on the side of the illegal immigrants."
Golden Dawn denies any involvement in attacks against immigrants, though party supporters have been arrested as suspects in several recent incidents.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)