Pensioner suicide in Greece triggers violent clashes

 

Athens

A Greek retiree has shot himself dead in Athens' main square, blasting politicians over the country's financial crisis in a suicide note that triggered violent clashes hours later between police and anti-austerity protesters.

Riot police fired tear gas and flash grenades after protests attended by some 1,500 people turned violent on Wednesday, and youths hurled rocks and petrol bombs outside Parliament. Authorities reported no injuries or arrests.

The 77-year-old retired pharmacist drew a handgun and shot himself in the head near a subway exit on central Syntagma Square which was crowded with commuters, police said. The square, opposite Parliament, has become the focal point of frequent public protests against Greece's two-year austerity campaign.

The incident, during morning rush hour, jolted public opinion and quickly entered political debate, with the prime minister and the heads of both parties backing Greece's governing coalition expressing sorrow.

"A pharmacist ought to be able to live comfortably on his pension," said Vassilis Papadopoulos, a spokesman for the "I won't pay" group. "So for him to reach the point of suicide out of economic hardship means a lot. It shows how the social fabric is unraveling."

Greece has relied on international rescue loans since May 2010. To secure them, Athens implemented harsh austerity measures, slashing pensions and salaries while repeatedly raising taxes. But the belt-tightening worsened the recession and led to thousands of job losses that left one in five Greeks unemployed.

"As a Greek, I am truly shocked," Dimitris Giannopoulos, an Athens doctor, said before the protest. "I am shocked because I see that (the government is) destroying my dignity ... and the only thing they care about are bank accounts."

Police said a handwritten note was found on the retired pharmacist's body in which he attributed his decision to the debt crisis.

According to a text of the note published by local media, the man said the government had made it impossible for him to survive on the pension he had paid into for 35 years. "I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food," read the note. Police did not confirm whether it was genuine.

Greece has seen an increase in suicides over the past two years of economic hardship, during which the country repeatedly teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Police did not release the pharmacist's name and offered few other details.

By Wednesday evening, dozens of written messages had been pinned to the tree under which the man shot himself, some reading: "It was a murder, not a suicide," and "Austerity kills."

Hundreds of protesters made their way across the street from the square to outside Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, chanting: "This was not a suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder" and "Blood flows and seeks revenge."

Dozens of riot police stood guard.

Papadopoulos, the protest organizer, said the suicide shows Greeks can take no more austerity.

"This suicide is political in nature and heavy in symbolism. It's not like a suicide at home," Papadopoulos said in a telephone interview. "There was a political suicide note, and it happened in front of a clearly political site, Parliament, where the austerity measures are approved."

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos issued a statement as protesters gathered at the site of the suicide.

"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."

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis described the incident as "a human tragedy," but said it should not become part of the political debate.

"I don't know the exact circumstances that led that man to his act," Kapsis said. "I believe we must all remain calm and show respect for the true events, which we do not yet fully know."

Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist party, said the suicide "is so overwhelming that it renders any political comment unbecoming and cheap."

"Let us reflect on the condition of the country and of our society in terms of solidarity and cohesion," said Venizelos, who served as finance minister for eight months before resigning to lead the Socialists.

Conservative party head Antonis Samaras said the tragedy highlighted the urgency of getting Greece out of the crisis.

"Unfortunately, this is not the first (suicide)," he said. "They have reached record levels."

More protests are planned today.

AP

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little