Protesters Start 'We Won't Pay' Movement In Greece

The economic collapse of Greece was precipitated by the countries massive national debt, caused in part by Greeks not paying their taxes. Now there's a growing protest movement against the government's austerity measures.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Europe's latest financial trouble is at the top of NPR's business news.

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INSKEEP: Moody's, the credit ratings agency, downgraded six Irish banks today. That move comes as politicians in Ireland debate whether or not to pour more money into the struggling banks. The move by Moody's sends the message that investing in those six banks is a riskier proposition, which will make it harder for them to raise money.

In Greece, taxpayers have launched a We Won't Pay movement. It's a reaction to government austerity measures, which were imposed as a condition of receiving almost $150 billion in loans. They're protesting by not paying taxes or government fees, protesting by not paying new tolls.

From Athens, Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS: Protesters occupied toll booths earlier this week and let motorists pass onto highways for free. They've also been encouraging Greeks to stop buying bus and metro tickets, which have gotten more expensive as a result of government efforts to raise more revenue.

The We Won't Pay movement is growing, and it encourages Greeks to ignore all rules, says Aristides Hatzis, a law professor at the University of Athens who says Greeks have a history of avoiding taxes.

Professor ARISTIDES HATZIS (University of Athens): Sixty percent, 60 percent of Greeks do not pay taxes. Of course, someone is going to pay for this - for the tolls, for the taxes, for the deficit, for everything.

KAKISSIS: Hatzis says Greeks don't pay taxes because they don't trust their institutions.

Prof. HATZIS: The people in many situations feel that they have the right to break the law.

KAKISSIS: But tax evasion is one reason the country ran up more than $400 billion in debt, and ended up needing a bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The government is trying to crackdown on tax evaders and now toll evaders.

A bill submitted in parliament this week promises higher fines for those who refuse to pay their tolls and public transportation tickets.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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