Greece's far-right Golden Dawn party has caused outrage by playing a Nazi anthem during a charity food handout attended by thousands of people.

Golden Dawn organised the handout in central Athens, with scores of police officers on hand to maintain order.

Greek authorities had initially banned Golden Dawn from hosting the event in the party's preferred location of Attiki Square. However Golden Dawn simply changed the location to its headquarters near Larissis Station.

More than 2,000 people crowded the streets outside the premises, as party members wearing their traditional black t-shirts distributed food and clothing, after checking recipients' identity cards to insure that non-Greeks were excluded.

A Greek version of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party anthem, the Horst Wessel Song - known as "Keep the Banner Flying" in Greek - was played.

From a balcony, Golden Dawn's leader Nikos Michaloliakos addressed the crowd, which enthusiastically booed every time he used words such as 'democracy' and 'Pakistani'.

"The crime we committed was that we wanted to hand out food to Greeks only. If we'd handed it out to Pakistanis and blacks, there would have been no problem," Michaloliakos told supporters. "Foreigners out of Greece!" the crowd chanted back.

The food hand-out was held on the 39th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in Greece, following the collapse of a 1967-74 military dictatorship.

"We didn't choose this day by coincidence," Michaloliakos said. "They say they are celebrating the return of democracy. But they are really celebrating state thievery, scandals, and treason."

'Pathetic copy of Nazis'

Golden Dawn has made substantial gains from Greece's deep economic crisis, blaming the country's large immigrant population as one of the causes.

"The Golden Dawn phenomenon is very dangerous," health minister Adonis Georgiadis told Mega TV. "There is a big danger of destabilisation and division."

Golden Dawn won 18 seats in the Greek parliament, gaining almost 7% of preferences in the two elections last year and opinion pools says popular support continues to rise.

Earlier this year, a report by the Council of Europe blamed the extremist group for a steep increase in hate crimes against migrants in Greece.

Public order Minister Nikos Dendias described the party as a "pathetic copy of Nazi totalitarianism" while Panos Skourletis, a spokesman for left-wing opposition party Syriza, claimed "they are trying to align problems that people face in Greek society with their own message of hatred and Nazism.

"Golden Dawn will only be weakened when the causes of the deep humanitarian crisis are addressed and stopped."

The Nazi occupation of Greece during the Second World War is still a sensitive issue to many Greek nationalists, and thus the party denies it draws inspiration from Hitler's movement.

However its members are often depicted mimicking the Nazi salute.