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Greek Retiree's Suicide Sparks Violent Clashes In Athens

Greek demonstrators clash with riot police in Athens overnight on April 4.
The suicide of an elderly Greek man, allegedly because of hardships caused by the Greek government's stringent austerity measures, has triggered violent clashes in Athens.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse some 1,500 protesters who had been hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails outside parliament. No injuries were reported.

The clashes erupted hours after the 77-year-old man, said to be a retired pharmacist, shot himself in the head on Athens' busy Syntagma Square on April 4.

Police said a handwritten note had been found on the body. The name of the man has not been released.

Media reports suggested the man may have taken his own life because of difficulties caused by the government's tough austerity measures, which have been imposed in a bid to rescue Greece from bankruptcy and economic collapse.

Greek political leaders expressed sadness over the incident, but said the suicide should not be politicized.

The man shot himself during the morning rush hour, with Syntagma Square across from parliament crowded with people.

According to Greek media, in his suicide note the man said he did not want to become a financial burden for his children.

By the evening of April 4, dozens of handwritten messages had been left at the scene of the suicide.

Some of the most sympathetic messages said the incident was not a suicide, but denounced it as "murder" by the authorities because of the harsh mixture of tax hikes and benefit cuts being imposed by the government in exchange for international bailouts.

'We Will All Commit Suicide'

Athens residents on April 5 were still shocked by the incident.

"It's a shame. It's a great shame. It could have been one of us, from our family. We are all heading there, we will all commit suicide," Zoe Tsirogianni, a 68-year-old homemaker, told Reuters.

"Today I got paid my Easter bonus and instead of 400 euros [$523] I got 180 euros. How will I manage to live on this? It's my rent, my children."

A government spokesman said that what he described as a "human tragedy" should not become part of the political debate as Greece gears up for early parliamentary elections expected in May.

Greece has debts worth hundreds of billions of euros and had to appeal to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans to avoid bankruptcy.

Two EU-IMF rescue packages totaling some 240 billion euros ($314 billion) have been agreed. Greek officials have not ruled out that a third bailout may be needed.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs or have seen their salaries and pensions slashed as a result of the austerity measures that were imposed to secure the loans.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa

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