Greek police clash with angry shopkeepers in Athens

ATHENS Thu Dec 20, 2012 4:07pm EST

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek riot police fought a group of Athens businessmen who tried to prevent a tax inspection on their shops, officials said on Thursday, highlighting the resistance the government faces in cracking down on the country's endemic tax evasion.

Four policemen were hospitalized with minor injuries after a group of about 50 protesters threw stones, set fire to garbage bins and hurled two firebombs at them in the rundown Athens suburb of Agia Varvara, a police official said.

"One officer was hit by a stone next to his right eye," said the official who declined to be named. No one was arrested.

Tax officials conducted the raid after tip offs that shops in the area were selling clothes and accessories without giving receipts or were shifting counterfeit products.

The incident was the second time since August police have intervened between angry shopkeepers and tax officials.

Tax evasion has been partly blamed for the financial woes that have led Greece to two international bailouts since 2010.

Greek tax officials are under pressure to perform after international lenders told Athens it needs to improve its inefficient tax administration to receive further bailout funds.

The government said on Thursday it would replace several heads of local tax offices who did not meet their revenue targets.

But efforts to crack down on tax evasion have produced few results so far. Revenues have been trailing targets amid the country's severe, austerity-fuelled recession.

Successive tax increases and wage cuts as part of the country's bailout have frustrated households and small entrepreneurs are complaining that nothing is done to uncover alleged corruption cases between big business and politicians.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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