More than 8,000 people gathered Wednesday outside a Greek courthouse for the verdicts in the trial of leaders of the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, police told AFP.
Many carried placards calling for the defendants to be imprisoned as they waited for the climax of one of the most important trials in the country's modern political history.
The crowd started gathering two hours before the verdicts were due to be handed down from 0800 GMT, in response a call from the anti-fascist movement, trade unions and parties on the left.
"The people want the Nazis in jail", read the placards.
Hundreds of police were also deployed at the courthouse, a few kilometres from the historic centre of the capital.
After hearings over the last five years, the Athens court will determine whether Golden Dawn is a criminal organisation that carried out violent attacks on opponents on the orders of founder Nikos Michaloliakos and his inner circle.
The prosecutions were sparked by the late-night murder of a 34-year-old anti-fascist rapper called Pavlos Fyssas, who was chased down by a mob of Golden Dawn thugs and stabbed to death in front of a cafe in the western Athens suburb of Keratsini in September 2013.
His mother was seen entering the court ahead of the hearing.
The killer, a former truck driver, confessed, but the attack sparked outrage and the charges that Golden Dawn was a paramilitary-style organisation that used beatings, intimidation and murder as tactics -- all with the knowledge of senior party members.
On Tuesday, lawmakers of the main opposition leftist Syriza party held up letters in parliament that spelled "they are not innocent".
There was uproar last year when chief prosecutor Adamantia Economou called for the acquittal of the party leaders on the basis that the existence of a criminal organisation had not been proven.
- Heavy sentences? -
In total, 68 members of the party have been on trial, including Michaloliakos and more than a dozen other former MPs like him who were elected in 2012 as the openly xenophobic group capitalised on discontent over joblessness and migration.
As well as delivering a verdict in the murder trial for Fyssas and the trial of senior leaders of Golden Dawn, the court will also hand down judgements for two other assault cases allegedly involving Golden Dawn members.
An Egyptian fisherman was left with broken teeth and head injuries after being beaten with clubs and metal bars in June 2012 as he slept.
Just over a year later, Communists putting up posters were attacked with nail-studded clubs.
The killer of Fyssas risks life imprisonment, while Golden Dawn founder Michaloliakos and fellow senior leaders face jail sentences from five to 15 years.
Golden Dawn was at its political peak at the time of Fyssas's murder, having won 18 seats in the 300-seat parliament in 2012 amid anger over a financial crisis in Greece that discredited mainstream political parties.
Three years later, it also sent three deputies to the European parliament in another strong showing.
But the investigation took its toll, causing a number of senior members to defect. In the last election in 2019, the party failed to win a single seat.