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People lay flowers at the site where the elderly man shot himself today AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Greek pensioner kills himself in main Athens square

The retired pharmacist left a note linking his suicide with the country’s financial crisis.

A GREEK RETIREE shot himself dead in the busiest public square in Athens during morning rush hour this morning, leaving a note police said linked his suicide with the country’s acute financial woes.

The incident sparked debate in parliament and an anti-austerity group called for a peaceful protest later today, accusing Greek politicians of driving people to despair with harsh cutbacks implemented to secure vital international bailouts.

The 77-year-old drew a handgun and shot himself in the head near a subway exit on central Syntagma Square, which was crowded with commuters during the morning rush hour, police said. The square, opposite Greece’s Parliament, is a focal point for public protests.

Police said a handwritten note was found on the retired pharmacist’s body in which he attributed his decision to the debt crisis. Greece has seen an increase in suicides over the past two years of economic hardship, during which the country repeatedly teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Athens News reports the note left by the man said:

The Tsolakoglou 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. And since my advanced age does not allow me a way of dynamically reacting (although if a fellow Greek were to grab a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him), I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance.
I believe that young people with no future, will one day take up arms and hang the traitors of this country at Syntagma square, just like the Italians did to Mussolini in 1945

Police did not release his name and offered few other details.

Soon after the suicide, about a dozen 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.”

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis described the incident as “a human tragedy,” but said it should not become part of political debate.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances that led that man to his act,” Kapsis said at a daily press briefing. “I believe we must all remain calm and show respect for the true events, which we do not yet fully know.”

Anti-austerity activists who had held daily protests for months last year at Syntagma Square blamed the suicide on the cutbacks and called for a new protest in the evening.

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.

But the belt-tightening worsened the recession, and led to thousands of job losses with one in five Greeks currently unemployed.

- Additional reporting by Christine Bohan

Eurozone unemployment hits 10.8 per cent >

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