The public suicide of an indebted pensioner in Athens on Wednesday has touched a nerve in the Greek capital, sparking violent clashes with police.
The 77-year-old retired pharmacist shot himself in the head during the morning rush-hour near the central Syntagma Square, police said on Wednesday. In a note found in his clothing, the man reportedly blamed the debt crisis and austerity measures for his suicide. After paying into his pension for 35 years, the government had rendered it too small to survive, he said in the message, published by local media. "I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food," it read.
The square where the incident occurred, just opposite the parliament building, has already been the site of frequent protests during Greece's debt crisis, and people gathered once again on Wednesday to mourn the unnamed pensioner's death. The death is the latest in a growing number of suicides in Greece, a country grappling with dramatic financial troubles that have led to high unemployment, lower wages and shrinking pension payments.
Some people posted notes to the tree under which he died, with messages like, "It was a murder, not a suicide," and "Austerity kills." Meanwhile, hundreds of others marched toward parliament chanting similar slogans.
"This suicide is political in nature and heavy in symbolism," Vassilis Papadopoulos, protest organizer and spokesman for the "I won't pay" group told the Associated Press. "It's not like a suicide at home."
The man's suicide quickly became a political issue in the country, with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos issuing a statement as protesters gathered. "It is tragic for one of our fellow citizens to end his life," he said. "In these difficult hours for our society we must all -- the state and the citizens -- support the people among us who are desperate."
An estimated 1,500 people attended the anti-austerity protests, and by nightfall they turned violent. Young people reportedly threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police, who fired tear gas and flash grenades in response. No injuries were reported.
No relief is in sight for Greece, despite international financial aid. By the end of 2012, the country's economy is expected to contract by 4.5 percent and remain in a recession until the following year, according to the Bank of Greece's annual report, released last month. The country's economy already took a 7 percent hit in 2011.