ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Alexis Tsipras doesn't wear a tie, but a growing number of his critics do.
The left-wing prime minister won a vote in parliament early Monday that will heap more taxes on a dwindling number of Greeks able to pay them.
Whereas previous protests against austerity cuts drew violent street demonstrations featuring hooded youths throwing firebombs, this time it's suited middle classes professionals revolting. Lawyers in particular are leading what's been dubbed the "necktie movement" with a strike that's closed courtrooms since mid-January.
Effectively, no one in Greece can get a divorce, inherit property, sue for wrongful dismissal, or carry out any transaction that requires court approval. Only criminal cases nearing the statute of limitation are going to court as an enormous backlog of cases has pushed trial dates as far back as 2032.
More than 200,000 trials have been postponed in Athens alone. At the city's main court complex, criminal suspects in handcuffs, police escorts, and smartly dressed lawyers gather around a canteen that sells toasted sandwiches and iced coffee, waiting hours for their new court dates.
Athens lawyer Thanos Koussoulos says self-employed professionals like him will feel the most pain, as the new measures will increase monthly pension contributions, taxable income, and levies on services.
"An average lawyer will lose half his income and won't be able to survive," he said, speaking in an empty courtroom. "Every part of society has been affected by these measures, including groups once considered to be privileged. I think it's a good thing they are demonstrating."
Prime Minister Tsipras, 41, was elected on a pledge to scrap austerity. But he was forced by bailout lenders to abandon his position to receive more rescue loans for Greece and a promise of better repayment terms needed for the economy to pull out of recession.
Shortly before the vote, Tsipras argued that sacrifices asked of Greeks would finally pay off.
"Spring may soon be over, but the real spring for our economy lies ahead of us ... We've turned the page of history," Tsipras told lawmakers.
Under the new measures, taxes will be added to everything from beer and coffee to gasoline and monthly Internet charges. Sales taxes will increase across the board, the government created an automatic austerity mechanism to safeguard future budget targets beyond its own term in office, and bailout creditors were even given seats on a new privatization committee with expanded powers.
The measures pave the way for eurozone finance ministers to approve the release of a new batch of bailout loans when they meet in Brussels on Tuesday. The creditors will then address the next vital issue for Greece: how to lighten the burden of repaying its mountain of bailout loans.
Greece has relied on financial aid from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund since 2010, but harsh cost-cutting reforms demanded in return sent the economy into shock and about a quarter of the workforce still remains jobless. That has weakened its ability to repay the loans.
The normally sober financial daily Naftemporiki said taxpayers had paid a heavy price for the continued bailout support, leading Monday with the headline: "Painful Measures, Stale Promises."
The creditors' demands that Greece commit to years of high budget surpluses left Tsipras' government with little choice but to hike taxes.
Pharmacists, vets, dentists and physical therapists all joined lawyers in street protests earlier this year as the extent of the austerity measures became clear. The engineers' association, whose members include Tsipras and several government officials, printed a wanted-style poster with the picture of all the engineer graduates in parliament who supported the austerity measures, under a banner that read "So That We Remember Them."
Ironically, the lawyers' strike has added pressure on the government to seek a quick way to raise revenue, as tax cases challenged in court have been held up.
Ordinary Greeks have suffered, too. Former municipal worker Christin Barbopoulou was part of a class action contract dispute with the city authority in Athens after being laid off in 2009. Due to repeated court delays and the strike this year, her next court date has been moved to September, 2017.
She spent two years out of work before finding a low-paid job as a security guard.
"You're asked to work nights and weekends and you have to agree," said the 49-year-old Barbopoulou. "It's the same for most people. The savings have gone and everything in our lives is on hold."
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