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August 23, 2017

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Anger over Greek austerity breeds civil disobedience

ATHENS -- An anti-tax rebellion is brewing in Greece, where the embattled government has announced wave after wave of new spending cuts and tax hikes urged on by international creditors horrified at the bleak financial figures coming out of Athens.

The government's efforts to reduce the country's debt burden and qualify for international bailout loans have come up against mounting resistance from a population suddenly squeezed hard between cuts to their salaries, pensions and benefits on one hand, and rising costs on the other.

Now, even elected local officials are joining the fray in a seemingly random but increasingly prevalent wave of civil disobedience.

Working on the theory of strength in numbers, authorities in the sizable Nea Ionia district of Athens are urging residents not to pay a much reviled new property tax being charged through electricity bills, in the hope of derailing the law.

"Our constituents can't pay; they don't have the ability to," said Nea Ionia Mayor Iraklis Gotsis, whose municipality has a population of about 70,000 people. "We consider the new tax to be illegal. But in essence, the truth is our people just can't pay."

So, the local council held town hall meetings, pondered going door-to-door with fliers, and this week posted instructions on its website on how to pay an electricity bill without handing over the new levy. A poster on the town hall's front door bears the slogan: "We don't owe. We don't have any (money). We won't pay. Enough!"

And Nea Ionia is not alone.

Groups of lawyers, trade unions and campaigners have also tried to derail government efforts to collect new taxes, or to suspend tens of thousands of civil servants on partial pay. State buildings have been occupied, municipalities have stalled in delivering emergency notices ordering strikers back to work, state enterprises have refused to hand over lists of employees eligible for suspension.

The backlash comes alongside strikes so frequent that everyone from garbage collectors to bakers, dentists to taxi drivers and air traffic controllers, have walked off the job at some point.

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