Greek retiree’s suicide symbol against austerity

Greek retiree’s suicide symbol against austerity

ATHENS - The Associated Press
Greek retiree’s suicide symbol against austerity

People gather at Syntagma square during a memorial ceremony for a man who shot himself outside the parliament during a demonstration in Athens on April 4. AFP photo

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

Riot police fired tear gas and flash grenades after protests attended by some 1,500 people turned violent late on April 4, and youths hurled rocks and petrol bombs outside Parliament. Authorities reported no injuries or arrests.

Political debate heats up

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.

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.

“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.

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.

Greece extends SWAP deadline

ATHENS - The Associated Press

Greece has extended to April 20 the deadline for a last batch of international private investors who own some 8 billion euros ($10.5 billion) worth of its bonds to join in a massive swap deal and accept a deep cut in the value of their holdings.

If exchanged, the swaps will complete the biggest debt writedown in history, forgiving crisis-hit Greece just over half its 205 billion euros debt held by banks, pension funds and other private investors. The final collection of bonds are regulated under foreign law and their owners had either earlier rejected the deal or postponed a decision.