Athens: Police on Wednesday prevented neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn from holding a Greeks-only food handout in an Athens square after the mayor branded the event “racist.”

In a rare step reserved only for high-security events, the police banned all gatherings in the central Athens area chosen by the Golden Dawn for the initiative.

“For purposes of public safety, all public gatherings (in the area) are not allowed from midday to midnight,” the police said.

Golden Dawn was first elected to parliament last year, winning nearly seven per cent of the vote and 18 seats out of an overall 300.

The party has benefited from a rise in social tensions in the debt-wracked country, which is in its sixth consecutive year of recession and fourth year of austerity measures that it has undertaken to carry out in return for international bailout funds.

The Socialist-backed mayor of Athens, George Kaminis, has repeatedly opposed Golden Dawn’s attempts to boost its ratings with public donations to Greeks only, saying that there are many immigrants in the city who are in greater need of assistance.

Kaminis this week said he would not allow the party to use the city’s public spaces for Wednesday’s planned food distribution, calling it “politically unacceptable” and encouraged “racism and xenophobia.”

Another attempted food handout by the group had been thwarted by city authorities in May, forcing the group to distribute the food at its offices instead, and a Golden Dawn deputy had later attempted to assault Kaminis in retaliation.

Many Golden Dawn supporters have been implicated in violent assaults against immigrants and the party is known for its anti-Semitic and xenophobic discourse.

Two other Golden Dawn deputies have been stripped of parliamentary immunity for destroying property belonging to immigrants at a market near Athens.

And the party’s spokesman, Ilias Kassidiaris, is to be tried for assaulting two leftist lawmakers on live television last year.