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Top aide to Greek PM resigns over taped claim that his boss influenced Golden Dawn probe

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ATHENS, Greece — A top aide to Greece's conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras resigned Wednesday over a video in which he appeared to accuse Samaras of influencing a criminal investigation into a Nazi-inspired party to gain votes.

Cabinet Secretary Panayiotis Baltakos apologized and claimed he only made the comments because Golden Dawn party officials were accusing him of conspiring against them.

The incident is an embarrassment to Samaras' troubled coalition, which has a tiny Parliamentary majority and faces a strong challenge from the anti-austerity leftwing Syriza party in next month's European Parliamentary elections.

In a transcript of his comments posted on Golden Dawn's website, Baltakos indicated that Cabinet ministers pressed judicial officials to remand Golden Dawn lawmakers in pre-trial detention. He also allegedly said Samaras "fears" Golden Dawn because it denied him a strong lead over Syriza.

Syriza said the video shows government opportunism in its crackdown on Golden Dawn and "creates a major political issue."

Ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn grew strong amid the country's economic depression and entered Parliament in 2012, winning 18 of the 300 seats. It ranks fourth in popularity surveys.

Leader Nikos Michaloliakos and another five lawmakers have been jailed pending trial for allegedly running a criminal organization, in a crackdown after the stabbing death of an anti-fascist musician by a Golden Dawn volunteer.

The party published the video and transcript Wednesday, as lawmakers voted to allow the criminal prosecution of another five Golden Dawn lawmakers.

Golden Dawn has long accused Samaras' center-right New Democracy party of persecuting it to regain disaffected right-wing voters.

Baltakos did not deny the secretly videotaped remarks, from a private conversation with a Golden Dawn lawmaker.

Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou and Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, both named in the transcript, denied any effort to influence the investigation.

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