Greek Man Kills Himself Outside Parliament

Early Wednesday, an elderly man shot and killed himself outside the Greek parliament in Athens. Before taking his own life, the man told bystanders that debts had pushed him to the edge. Many Greeks say they see him as a symbol of how desperate they feel as austerity continues to strangle the economy.

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Early today, a tragic event in Greece. An elderly man stood outside the parliament in Athens. He told bystanders that debts had pushed him to the edge and then he shot himself.

Joanna Kakissis reports that many Greeks have gathered at the scene to pay their respects to a man they say symbolizes a kind of desperation all too common in Greece today.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The man was 77, a retired pharmacist. He had a wife and a daughter. This morning, as commuters rushed to work, he stood under a giant tree, holding a handgun.

I have debts and I can't take it anymore, he told bystanders. Then he pulled the trigger.

Giorgos Malikoutis heard about it on the news. He's 65 and retired himself. And he could easily see himself falling into the same despair. He took out loans to build homes for his children. Then his pension was cut, his taxes hiked.

GIORGOS MALIKOUTIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Yes. Yes, of course, I feel the same desperation, he said. I mean, the departed was 12 years older than me ,but he was no less in debt than me.

Malikoutis came to Syntagma this afternoon to pay his respects to the deceased pharmacist. Hundreds of people were already there. They left bouquets of carnations, roses and tulips at the spot where he died. They lit candles and burned incense. And they also clapped for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

KAKISSIS: The man left a suicide note. He said he didn't want to die in shame, eating out of garbage cans. Malikoutis says this moved him.

MALIKOUTIS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: He says he was drowned by the debt he didn't want to leave his children with this burden, he said. This shows he was a responsible man, an educated man with a political conscience.

Tough austerity measures demanded by international lenders have cut jobs, wages and pension. Many people are struggling to survive on sharply reduced incomes.

Even 20-year-old Chryssanthi Mourti has felt the bite. The architecture student says both of her parents are now unemployed.

CHRYSSANTHI MOURTI, ARCHITECTURAL STUDENT: For example, in my family, there is no income since a few months now, neither from my father or from my mother, there's no income. And I know that most people are like this. I mean, nor for me, nor for anyone can I see a future.

KAKISSIS: She sat on a bench and watched as more people gathered around the tree where the pharmacist took his life. And though there was anger, Chryssanthi Mourti said she only noticed the sadness.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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