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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greek Far-Right Leader Seeing Support

ATHENS -- A party led by a former bodybuilder could become the first far-right group to enter Greece's parliament since the return of democracy in 1974.

The Popular Orthodox Alarm party of George Karatzaferis, who has pledged to stop illegal immigration of Albanians and has upset Jewish groups with his rhetoric, is expected to reach the 3 percent threshold in parliamentary elections on September 16.

With opinion polls also showing no party easily winning an outright majority, Karatzaferis could become a powerbroker in a poll seen as crucial for the pace of reform the European Union member nation needs to catch up with its euro zone partners.

Some analysts see similarities between Karatzaferis' LA.O.S. party and other European far-right groups.

"LA.O.S. has elements of other European far-right parties, such as nationalism and intolerance to immigrants," said Dimitis Sotiropoulos, of the ELIAMEP think tank.

"But it also has some special characteristics. It is populist and personality-driven."

Karatzaferis, 60, who has called on Greeks to unite against "the enemies" surrounding the nation in a reference to Albania, Macedonia and Turkey, bristles at any comparisons with French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

He denies being a far-rightist, but in previous elections he has recruited members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn group, which has been blamed for violent attacks against leftist groups and immigrants.

"We are against marginalization, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. This is clear," Karatzaferis said. "What we want is to set a limit. How many more can Greece take? And above all, they must come in legally, not jump over the fence."

Conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called a snap election last month to try to win a mandate to push through economic reforms. He hopes to secure a new term on the back of his government's economic record.

Karamanlis said during a televised debate Thursday that he would not agree to a coalition if he failed to win enough votes to form a government, but some analysts said this could be a campaign tactic.

Political and financial scandals and the government's reaction to destructive forest fires that killed 65 people have pushed disillusioned voters toward smaller parties.

Many Greeks blame a rising crime wave partly on East European immigrants who fled after the collapse of communism. LA.O.S., which some polls say could win 3.3 to 4.9 percent of the vote, plays on such fears.

Karatzaferis has also spoken of an unspecified "international conspiracy" aimed at "destroying Greece." But the prospect of entering coalition negotiations after the election has tempered his rhetoric.

Once a fierce opponent of Turkey's bid to join the EU, he now says Ankara can become a member if it meets pro-EU reforms and resolves the division of Cyprus, split into two separate Greek and Turkish communities.

Karatzaferis, who has worked as a journalist and radio producer, has upset the Central Bureau of Jewish Communities of Greece with his rhetoric.

"Repeatedly his newspaper has attacked Jews with very offensive comments," said bureau president Moses Konstantinis. "There are two openly declared anti-Semites on his ticket."