Thousands protest in Greece over planned new tax

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By DEREK GATOPOULOS, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Retirees, the disabled and high school teachers were among thousands of protesters who clogged the Greek capital's streets Thursday to demonstrate against a new property tax and other austerity measures. The show of anger disrupted traffic 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 Nov. 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 near 28 percent, with 31 percent of the country living in poverty or at risk of poverty, according to the EU statistics agency, Eurostat.

More than a thousand disabled demonstrators from all over the country blocked traffic outside the Labor Ministry building before filing through the city center in wheelchairs, on crutches and using white canes for the blind.

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."

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