A protester argues with police during a rally at central Syntagma square in Athens, April 5 2012. A Greek pensioner's suicide outside parliament has quickly become a symbol of the pain of austerity and has been seized on by opponents of the budget cuts imposed by Greece's international lenders.
A Greek pensioner who shot himself to death on Athens' main square this week said he took his life because the government's financial austerity measures left him virtually penniless.
The retired pharmacist's extreme action quickly made him a fateful symbol of the debt-ridden country's economic plight.
Greek newspapers published excerpts from a suicide note from 77-year-old Dimitris Christoulas.
He said austerity measures the Greek government has imposed in return for an international bailout to avoid default on the national debt "literally wiped out" the pension he had expected to support him in retirement.
Christoulas shot himself in the head in a crowd of morning rush-hour commuters Wednesday . The note he left said he was reduced to sifting through garbage to feed himself, and could "find no other solution for a dignified end."
In death, he quickly became a martyr championed by anti-government protesters, some of whom fought with police near parliament. Others left flowers, Greek flags and candles near the tree where Christoulas shot himself with a handgun.
Some protesters chanted, "This was no suicide. It was a state-perpetrated murder."
A neighbor recalled that Christoulas recently draped a banner over his apartment balcony to protest against crushing property taxes.
"He had put up a banner on his balcony that said, 'I won't pay.'"
Another neighbor said Christoulas symbolized how Greeks have been affected by cuts in government social spending:
"He is a victim of the situation the Greek people are suffering through."
After months of negotiations with its European Union partners, Greece recently secured a new international rescue package. In return, the Athens government has been forced to sharply trim spending, cut pensions and dismiss thousands of government workers.
The austerity measures have deepened the recession in Greece and raised unemployment to a record 21 percent – twice as high as the average rate in the nations that use the euro as their common currency.