• Syntagma Square has been the scene of many protests by angry Greeks (Photo: Odysseas Gp)

Pensioner suicide shocks Greece

05.04.12 @ 09:14

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - A pensioner committed suicide in the centre of Athens Wednesday (4 April) giving a public face to the hardship endured by many Greeks as the country slashes spending to satisfy international creditors.

The man, a 77-year-old pharmacist, shot himself in Syntagma Square with some reports saying that he had shouted that he did not want to leave debts to his children.

It later emerged that he had left a suicide note.

“I can’t find another way to react apart from putting a dignified end to things before I start looking through garbage in order to survive and before I become a burden for my child,” said the note according to Greek paper Ekathimerini.

His exact financial situation remains unclear but reports say he was seriously ill and was struggling to pay for medicine. His suicide prompted a spontaneous gathering of around 2000 people in Syntagma Square later on Wednesday.

Peaceful at first, demonstrations turned during violent during the evening, as activists threw rocks and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and flash grenades.

"In these difficult times for our country we must all - the state and its citizens - support those next to us who are in despair," said Prime Minister Lucas Papademos.

With the number of suicides in Greece having risen sharply in recent years, opposition centre-right leader Antonis Samaras said: "I'm shocked, unfortunately this is not the first victim, we have a record rate of suicide. We have to get Greeks out of this despair."

The pensioner's apparent struggle to pay medical bill comes as Papademos' government has made massive spending cuts in the face of demands by the EU partners and IMF, which have agreed to give the country two loans: €110bn in 2010 and €130bn earlier this year.

The cuts have seen unemployment shoot up while salaries and pension have dropped. Ordinary Greeks speak of the difficulty of trying to manage their money as the government imposes a series of 'one-off' taxes.

"I had to pay 600 euro - the basic monthly salary in Greece - for a 'solidarity tax' a couple of months ago. After that there came a 'special tax' for anyone who owns property. The way it was implemented shows the government knew how unpopular it would be. So the property tax was taken through your electricity bill," Paul Kidner, a Greek entrepreneur, wrote on Yahoo News recently.

The day after the pensioner's suicide Ekathimerini reported that hundreds of cancer patients are having trouble finding lifesaving drugs as hospitals cut down on their purchase of the expensive drugs and state doctors are wary of proscribing them.

Greece's own internal woes come amid a wider European debate about whether the austerity medicine proscribed is not doing more long term harm to the patient than good.

Critics says that the Greek economy will not be able to grow amid a spiral of spending cuts. Those in favour say that Greece has to get its house in order if it is to get money from others - with northern European government having to deal populations resentful of bailing out Greece.

The Greek economy will have contracted a massive 17 percent between 2009 and the end of this year. But more austerity cuts are on the way. Athens is being asked to cover a fiscal gap of 5 percent in 2013 and 2014 in order to meet debt reduction targets - and eventually, say EU officials, put itself back on the growth track.