Greek pensioner kills himself before parliament

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2012 10:06 AM
Greek pensioner kills himself before parliament

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - A cash-strapped Greek pensioner shot and killed himself outside parliament in Athens on Wednesday saying he refused to scrounge for food in the rubbish, touching a nerve among ordinary Greeks feeling the brunt of the country's economic crisis.

The public suicide by the 77-year-old retired pharmacist quickly triggered an outpouring of sympathy in a country where one in five is jobless and a sense of national humiliation has accompanied successive rounds of salary and pension cuts.

Just hours after the death, an impromptu shrine with candles, flowers and hand-written notes protesting the crisis sprung up in the central Syntagma square where the suicide occurred. Dozens of bystanders gathered to pay their respects.

One note nailed to a tree said "Enough is enough", while another asked "Who will be the next victim?".

The "Indignant" protesters, who have turned out in the thousands against austerity measures imposed by foreign lenders in exchange for bailout loans, said they planned a march later on Wednesday.

"This is a human tragedy," government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said as politicians in parliament decried the death.

Acts of suicide have been instrumental in the past in provoking popular protest. A Tunisian vegetable seller triggered the start of the so-called "Arab Spring" by setting himself on fire in December 2010.

Witnesses said the man put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger after yelling out: "I have debts, I can't stand this anymore."

Another passerby told Greek television the man said "I don't want to leave my debts to my children."

A suicide note found in his coat pocket blamed politicians and financial troubles for driving him to take his life, police said.

The government had "annihilated any hope for my survival and I could not get any justice. I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from the trash"," the note said.

DIGNIFIED

The president of the pharmacists' union in the broader Attica region, Costas Lourantos, said he recalled meeting the man several years ago and was struck by his dignified manner.

"When dignified people like him are brought to this state, somebody must answer for it," said Lourantos. "There is a moral instigator to this crime - which is the government that has brought people to such despair."

Shortly after news of the man's death, Lourantos says he received an anonymous call from a pharmacist saying she would be next to follow suit.

"I am now frantically looking to find out who it was so we can stop her," Lourantos said.

The busy square, through which thousands pass by during the morning commute hours when the suicide occurred, was cordoned off while the body was taken away.

Greece is stumbling through its worst post-World War Two economic crisis as austerity measures demanded by foreign lenders in exchange for financial aid push the country into its fifth year of recession.

The government last year said suicides had increased 40 percent over the previous two years as the worsening crisis drives ordinary Greeks to despair.

With financial hardship fast becoming an unavoidable facet of life for many, some Greeks said the pharmacist's public suicide would not be the last.

"This is the point to which they've brought us. Do they really expect a pensioner to live on 300 euros?" asked 54-year old Maria Parashou, who rushed to the square to pay her respects after reading about the suicide.

"They've cut our salaries, they've humiliated us. I have one daughter who is unemployed and my husband has lost half of his income, but I won't allow myself to lose hope."

(Additional reporting by Dina Kyriakidou, Writing by Deepa Babington; Editing by Angus MacSwan)