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Greek hearse drivers protest tax hike

By Costas Kantouris

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 6:06 a.m. MST

A hearse driver stands between empty vehicles during a protest, near the Greek Parliament, in Athens, on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. The protesters say their cars have been reclassified as private instead of business vehicles, obliging them to pay up to six times higher rates in road tax by the end of next week for 2012.

Thanassis Stavrakis, Associated Press

THESSALONIKI, Greece — In Greece, there's no escaping death and taxes.

Hearse owners on Thursday became the latest professional group to join anti-austerity protests in Greece, taking part in a protest drive through the center of the country's two main cities.

Organizers complained that a sharp rise in annual road taxes could put them out of business.

The protesters say their cars have been reclassified as private instead of business vehicles, obliging them to pay up to six times more in road tax by the end of next week for 2012.

"How can you call a hearse a regular car? Our passengers are deceased," protester Aris Karvounidis, a member of the Funeral Services Association of Northern Greece, told the AP.

In Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, protesters drove their vehicles — which were empty — from the main cemetery to a regional government building, while colleagues in Athens slowed traffic as they filed past Parliament.

Desperate to curb overspending, Greece's government has imposed a punishing regime of emergency taxes on pensioners, homeowners and salaried workers, while sweeping away dozens of welfare benefits and tax exemptions.

The government this week said some 1,580 demonstrations had been held in Athens this year, as workers for the government and struggling private companies saw their wages slashed, and decades-old protective labor laws scrapped.

The country has been surviving on rescue loans from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund for the past 19 months, pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by its massive national debt and high borrowing rates.

Hearse drivers say their vehicles will now be taxed at the same rate as luxury cars, with higher import duties and annual fees.

"This is unfair," Thessaloniki protesters Costas Romelios said. "We want to change this new rule ... We are professionals and, of course, we have professional vehicles."

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