Greek police detain union leader in tax protest

ATHENS Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:15am EST

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek riot police detained a union leader and 14 other activists on Thursday during a protest against a property tax, the first such arrests since the formation of a national unity government to stave off bankruptcy.

Dozens of members of the GENOP labor union clashed with around 80 riot police outside an office of Greece's biggest power producer PPC in an Athens suburb. The company is charged with collecting the property tax via electricity bills.

"We will not back down in our struggle. This fight is about the whole of Greek society. It is about not cutting power to the homes of the poor, the unemployed, the pensioners," Nikos Fotopoulos, head of GENOP, said before being detained and taken to a public prosecutor to face possible charges.

"The fight will continue till the end. This law will become invalid in practice, with the help of all the people."

GENOP, which represents power workers and has close links to the Socialist PASOK party serving in the crisis coalition government, have disrupted operations at the PPC data processing center since Sunday by blocking the entrance to the offices.

Having PPC collect the new property tax with electricity bills makes it harder for people to avoid paying it in a country known for tax evasion and also brings the risk of their power being cut off. However, the government has said it has no plans to cut electricity to impoverished non-payers for now.

Public sector unions representing about half a million workers are set to halt work for two hours on Thursday afternoon in protest against austerity measures Greece must implement to secure the release of loans needed to prevent a debt default, and against technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos's 2012 draft budget now moving through parliament.

Their protest will include a march to the Portuguese embassy to show solidarity with workers in Portugal, who staged a general strike on Thursday against tough cuts there aimed at meeting EU-imposed budget goals.

Greek private and public sector unions plan a national strike on December 1.

GENOP is one of Greece's most hardline labor unions. In recent years it has held a number of strikes that have disrupted electricity supplies and scuppered government plans to sell a stake in or find strategic private partners for PPC.

Papademos's three-party crisis government needs to show progress on reforms and fiscal measures to cut its deficit in order to persuade international lenders to unblock 8 billion euros ($11 billion) of aid needed to repay debts due next month.

(Additional reporting by Daphne Papadopoulou; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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