Sat, Apr 07, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Note blames suicide on austerity

DESPAIR:Violence broke out after about 1,000 people, rallied by social media messages, joined a protest and clashed with police following the man’s suicide

AFP, ATHENS

Mourners on Thursday gather at the spot where an elderly man had committed suicide on the previous day by shooting himself, at Syntagma central square, in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, Greece.

Photo: EPA

A retired pharmacist who shot himself in the head in Athens’ busiest square, sparking clashes between protesters and police, left a suicide note lamenting poverty and despair, excerpts showed on Thursday.

The 77-year-old man, who killed himself under a cypress tree in Syntagma Square on Wednesday, about 100m from parliament, said government austerity cuts had “wiped out” his pension and left him in penury.

Violence broke out after about 1,000 people poured into the square in a spontaneous anti-government protest following the suicide, rallied by messages on social media.

The dead man had also compared the government, which is implementing an unpopular economic overhaul in return for EU-IMF loans, to the regime imposed by Greece’s Nazi German occupiers in 1941.

“The occupation government ... has literally wiped out my ability to survive, based on a respectable pension which I had paid for during a 35-year period,” the pensioner said in an excerpt published in Greek newspapers.

“I find no other solution for a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage to feed myself,” he allegedly wrote in red ink.

A police source said the man had cancer. Greek newspaper reports said he had a daughter, but was separated from his wife.

On Wednesday, scuffles broke out with riot police after a group of about 50 youths threw stones at them. The police fired tear gas and charged the protesters after they began smashing the entrance of a luxury hotel.

At least two journalists were rough-handled during the fracas despite their efforts to identify themselves, according to state television NET journalist George Gerafentis, who said he had fallen to the ground.

The station showed footage of a second journalist being pushed to the ground and a riot policeman attempting to kick her.

An investigation has been ordered into the incident, a police source said.

Ten people were detained, but later released.

Mourners had left flowers, candles and handwritten messages in the square, which for two years has been the main rallying point for protests against austerity measures designed to haul Greece from its fiscal crisis.

Some of the notes called for an “uprising of the people.”

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs in the last year, and unemployment currently tops 1 million, a quarter of the workforce.

Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending and has slashed civil servant salaries and pensions by up to 40 percent to secure bailout loan payments from the EU and the IMF.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice offered his condolences over the man’s suicide.

“What I’d like to say is we’re deeply saddened to learn of any death in these circumstances, and just to express our sympathies,” he said.

Greece has a lower suicide rate than the EU average, but cases are multiplying after two years of tough austerity.

Economic difficulties have caused despair across southern Europe, where governments in Italy, Portugal and Spain are applying similarly tough austerity policies.

In neighboring Italy, five people have killed themselves in the last two weeks.

Greece’s Ta Nea daily gave an estimate of more than 450 suicides and 600 attempted suicides in the country last year, though it was not clear if the economic crisis was the cause.

The incident comes ahead of parliamentary elections expected early next month.

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