Rapper's killer in Greek Golden Dawn trial claims self defence

Main suspect Yiorgos Roupakias claims self defence in the 2013 killing of a rapper in a trial delving into violence by the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party

A supporter of Greece's neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn who fatally stabbed an anti-fascist rapper nearly six years ago took the stand on Thursday in the final stretch of a major trial Thursday to claim he acted in self defence.

"It was simple manslaughter blown up (for political reasons)," Yiorgos Roupakias, a pot-bellied former truck driver, said, asserting that the rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, had assaulted him first.

The Athens trial of Roupakias and nearly 70 other suspects is considered a landmark case in Greece. Roupakias is the main defendant in the trial, which is nearing a verdict after four years of hearings.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Golden Dawn officials orchestrated violent acts targeting migrants and political opponents.

Fyssas's killing during a street brawl on September 18, 2013 was a catalyst in shedding light on the neo-Nazi group. It shocked Greece at the time and prompted a rapid response from the authorities, who until then had done little to stem violence blamed on Golden Dawn.

In January 2013, suspected Golden Dawn members had also fatally stabbed a Pakistani migrant but that case was only investigated in earnest after Fyssas's killing.

- Rapper 'hunted down' -

In the trial under way, witnesses said a group of suspected Golden Dawn members "hunted down" Fyssas and stabbed him with a "professional" strike.

In his statement to the court, Roupakias denied that, maintaining that Fyssas had assaulted him and he reacted.

"He was punching me...when you're being beaten up and you're hunched over, you don't understand what's going on," he said.

The proceedings have fuelled revulsion at Golden Dawn's perceived violence, with Greek media publishing many photos and videos of senior party members cradling firearms, giving fascist salutes and making racist and anti-Semitic statements.

It also came as the political tide turned against the party.

At the height of its influence, Golden Dawn had 18 lawmakers in parliament and was the country's third most popular party. But in national elections earlier this month, amid a flurry of defections, it failed to enter parliament for the first time since 2012.

The trial will go into recess at the end of July and resume in September when senior party members are scheduled to testify.

A verdict is expected this year.