Tragedy of Greek pensioner puts focus on rising austerity suicides
Man kills himself in protest at pension cut on day fears rise of further eurozone difficulties
ATHENS police fired tear gas last night at Greeks protesting against the country's painful austerity programme after a 77-year-old-man shot himself dead in Syntagma Square because, he said, the government had cut his pension to nothing.
Dimitris Christoulas was a retired pharmacist who sold his business in 1994. Leaving behind his wife and daughter, he killed himself near the Greek parliament yesterday morning.
A note found in his coat pocket read: "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.
"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 garbage cans for my sustenance."
Fellow Greeks left flowers and tributes at the spot where Christoulas ended his life. The BBC reports that one note read: "Enough is enough". Another said: "Who will be the next victim?"
By evening, hundreds of demonstrators were gathering in the square. When petrol bombs were thrown at police, they responded with tear gas.
Christoulas's very public death threw the focus once again on the human cost of European austerity measures. As The Daily Telegraph reports, "One in five Greeks are unemployed, depression is on the rise and there is a growing feeling of despair across the country." Figures show suicides in Athens rose by 25 per cent last year.
The shock at Christoulas's death came on the day hopes suddenly faded that the eurozone might be pulling itself out of trouble. The FTSE 100 closed 2.3 per cent down at 5703.8 – its biggest fall in four months – after a day of jitters across European bourses and a disappointing bond auction in Spain, where the government is desperately trying to stave off the need for an international bailout.
Christoulas killed himself the day after another European pensioner threw herself from the balcony of her third-floor apartment in the Sicilian town of Gela. The 78-year-old Italian woman was protesting at her monthly pension being cut from €800 to €600.
Her son, Bruno Marsana, is reported by the Telegraph to have said: "The government is making us all poorer, apart from the wealthy, who they don't touch, in contrast with us workers and small businessmen who are struggling with heavy debts."
Last week, two men set themselves on fire in Italy in suicide attempts that left them both in hospital suffering serious burns. A 58-year-old businessman attempted self-immolation while sitting in his car outside a tax office in Bologna. He was protesting against the rejection of his appeal against a claim for unpaid tax.
A 27-year-old Moroccan construction worker did the same thing outside the town hall of Verona, in protest at not being paid for four months. His self-immolation was a "symptom of the utter exasperation felt by the weakest employees," said union leader Vincenzo Scudiere.