Greek unrest over pensioner suicide

Street clashes outside parliament, where 77-year-old man shot himself in apparent desperation over cuts to his pension.

Protesters have clashed with police in Athens, hours after a Greek pensioner shot himself dead outside the parliament building.

The man, named as 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself in the head near a crowded subway exit on central Syntagma Square on Wednesday morning.

In a suicide note reported by Greek media, Christoulas criticised the government over the country’s financial crisis and for reducing his pension to nothing.

Riot police fired tear gas and flash grenades after hundreds of protests hurled rocks and petrol bombs outside parliament. Authorities reported no injuries or arrests.

The square, opposite parliament, has become the focal point of frequent public protests against austerity measures introduced by the government in response to the country’s debt crisis, which has forced it to turn to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for bailout loans. 

Al Jazeera’s John Psarapoulos, reporting from Athens, said the suicide site was still attracting mourners.

“There are people still gathering at the site of that tree. It has become a place of pilgrimage; a sort of shrine. People are lighting candles … and they’re leaving notes [behind],” he said.

“We approached several pensioners who had come there [and] who couldn’t talk to us on camera because they were quietly weeping. They told us they had no connection to this man, but they felt sympathy because they’re suffering similar plights.”

‘No help’

In the suicide note, found by police and reported by the Athens News newspaper, Christoulas said: “The government has annihilated all traces for my survival, which was based on a very dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years with no help from the state.

Syntagma Square has been a focal point for anti-austerity protesters [EPA]

“And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting… I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through rubbish bins for my sustenance.”

Lucas Papademos, the Greek prime minister, 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.”

Evangelos Venizelos, the former finance minister and now the head of the socialist PASOK party that holds a majority in the coalition government, called on colleagues to refrain from “political commentary” and “show solidarity and togetherness”.

By Wednesday evening, dozens of written messages had been pinned to the tree under which Christoulas had 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 adjacent Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, chanting “This was not a suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder” and “Blood flows and seeks revenge”.

Depression and suicides are reported to have increased in Greece by 18 per cent, according to the Reuters news agency.

The number of suicides in Athens alone rose over 25 per cent last year, as the country has introduced tough austerity measures, which has increased unemployment to 21 per cent

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies