Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Greeks stage protest over new tax

Retirees, the disabled and high school teachers were among thousands of protesters taking part in an anti-austerity protests in Athens (AP)

Retirees, the disabled and high school teachers were among thousands of protesters who clogged the Greek capital's streets today to demonstrate against a new property tax and other austerity measures. The show of anger disrupted traffic in Athens for more than eight hours.

Parliament is due to vote next week on proposals to replace an emergency property tax included on electricity bills with a permanent levy, breaking a pledge made last year by the conservative-led coalition government to abolish the tax.

New planned cuts to state benefits and the public workforce have also prompted unions to call another general strike for November 6.

An economic crisis led Greece to take billions of euros in rescue loans from other European countries and the International Monetary Fund in recent years. In return, it has had to overhaul its economy and impose harsh measures including cutting salaries and imposing new taxes.

The government has promised a six-year recession will end in 2014, but unemployment has continued to rise. By the latest measure, it was nearly 28%, with 31% of the country living in poverty or at risk of poverty, according to the EU statistics agency, Eurostat.

More than 1,000 disabled demonstrators from all over the country blocked traffic outside the Labour Ministry building before filing through the city centre in wheelchairs and on crutches, with the blind using white canes.

Yannis Vardakastanis, a blind Greek who heads the European Disability Forum, said the protest was called after disabled people were denied an exemption from the new property tax. "We are the poorest of the poor, but we must not let them turn us into victims," he said.

Michalis Kouklos, who is blind and unemployed, took a six-hour bus ride from the northern city of Thessaloniki to attend the demonstration.

"We're here to defend the obvious things that everyone needs to live in dignity," the 35-year-old said. "I wish there had been more of us here today because things are getting really bad."

AP

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