Protesters have clashed with riot police in Athens hours after a pensioner shot himself dead outside the Greek parliament.
The man, named in the Greek media as 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas, killed himself in the city’s busy Syntagma Square on Wednesday morning.
In a suicide note reported by Greek media, he accused the government of reducing his pension to nothing.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the square outside parliament on Wednesday evening, the scene of many large protests in recent months. Violence erupted, with petrol bombs hurled at police, who fired tear gas in response.
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Man Kills Himself In Athens Square
The Wall Street Journal, By Alkman Granitsas, April 4
Athens – A 77-year-old Greek man took his life in Athens’s central Syntagma Square on Wednesday, leaving a note behind linking his actions to the country’s deepening economic crisis.
The man shot himself with a handgun in a grassy area to one side of the Greek capital’s main square during the morning rush hour. His death added to a sharp rise in the number of suicides in the country that has coincided with years of recession and subsequent austerity measures that have cut deeply into the country’s standard of living, particularly for low-income earners and retirees.
The square, across from the national Parliament building, became the focus of an impromptu antiausterity rally later Wednesday as about 1,000 people gathered to light candles and to place flowers and sympathy notes at the site. “Hopefully it will be the last death of an innocent citizen. I hope the rest [of the deaths] will be of political traitors,” said one note signed by T.L.
Sporadic scuffles later broke out around the square between dozens of hooded youths and riot police who responded by firing small amounts of tear gas.
The suicide also evoked sympathetic responses from a series of Greek politicians who blamed the austerity for the incident. In a statement, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos described the incident as “tragic” and called on the state and citizens to “support those next to us in desperation.”
Greece is now in its fifth year of a grinding economic recession, and more than two years into a series of austerity programs instituted to meet the demands of international creditors from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The Greek charitable organization Klimaka, which runs a suicide helpline, says the number of callers to its helpline has doubled in the past year. Many of those callers cite financial difficulties related to the crisis as one of the reasons for wanting to take their own lives, said Klimaka psychiatrist Eleni Bekiari. “We have seen a sharp increase in the number of calls placed to our hotline,” she said. “And many of those callers refer to the financial problems they are facing as a reason for wanting to commit suicide.”
According to police data, the number of suicides in 2010 and 2011 surpassed 600 each year, a 20% jump over the rate in 2009, the year before the start of the Greek debt crisis.