ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Members of the extreme right Golden Dawn party handed out food parcels outside Parliament on Wednesday, but made sure only Greek citizens received the assistance.
Hundreds stood in line at Athens' main Syntagma Square, showing IDs proving their Greek citizenship to pick up their food. Party volunteers dressed in black passed out milk, pasta, potatoes and olive oil in a one-day charity event critics said was meant to soften the image of a party likened to neo-Nazi groups.
Greece is going through its fifth year of recession, with poverty and unemployment rate rising, and Golden Dawn has made inroads in the country's political system with its vehement attacks against traditionally dominant parties and strongly anti-immigrant stance.
Its members have been accused of involvement in attacks against immigrants and some of its senior officials have publicly declared admiration for Adolf Hitler. The party rejects the neo-Nazi label.
Public support, however, has increased 20-fold since elections in 2009, and it won 18 seats in the country's 300-seat parliament in June elections.
"Golden Dawn is a nationalist party and above all we are looking after Greeks," Golden Dawn Parliament member Nikolaos Michos told The Associated Press.
Panayotis Panagiotopoulos, an unemployed man waiting for food Wednesday, said he was grateful for the help and described Golden Dawn as representing "the soul of the Greek people."
The party denies any involvement in a recent surge of street attacks against Asian immigrants in Athens and other cities, despite repeated claims to the contrary by migrant groups and human rights activists.
"At night they beat people up. And by day, they hand out food," Petros Constantinou, a left-wing Athens city councilman, told the AP.
"They are exploiting people's misery to fish for votes. They are despicable."
AP Television's Eftehia Katsareas and Dalton Bennett contributed.