ATHENS — 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 of 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 condemning 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?”.
A few hundred “Indignant” protesters, who staged mass protests in 2011 against austerity measures imposed by foreign lenders in return for bailout loans, marched into Syntagma square on Wednesday evening.
Many more huddled around the suicide site, some chanting: “This was not suicide – it was murder committed by the state”.
Acts of suicide have been catalysts for provoking popular protest in the past. A Tunisian vegetable seller triggered the start of the so-called “Arab Spring” protests by setting himself on fire in December 2010.
In Athens, witnesses said the man appeared in the busy square during the morning rush hour, 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 pocket blamed politicians and financial troubles for pushing him over the edge, 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 rubbish”,” the note said.