Thousands of Greeks in anti-austerity protest over planned new property tax

ATHENS, Greece – Thousands of protesters clogged the Greek capital’s streets Thursday to demonstrate against a new property tax. The anger was registered across society, with retirees, disabled groups, shipyard workers and high school teachers among those taking part in demonstrations.

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. More than 50 conservative lawmakers are demanding changes to proposals, arguing they unfairly burden their rural constituents.

The government is also planning new cuts to state benefits and the public workforce, triggering another general strike planned by unions for Nov. 6.

Outside the Labor Ministry, more than a thousand disabled demonstrators who travelled from around Greece blocked traffic outside the building, before filing through the city centre in wheelchairs, on crutches and using white canes for the blind.

Deaf protesters responded to speeches by shaking both hands in the air, sign language for applause.

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. “The financial crisis is turning into a humanitarian crisis for us.”

Michalis Kouklos, a 35-year-old blind and unemployed man, 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,” he told the AP.

“People with serious illnesses are losing their health insurance and have to go from hospital to hospital to try and get treated. I wish there had been more of us here today because things are getting really bad.”

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 per cent, with 31 per cent of the country living in poverty or at risk of poverty, according to the EU statistics agency, Eurostat.