A suicide, an angry protest, and a nation in agony

Despair, violence go hand in hand as Greece spins out of control

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ATHENS, Greece

— The old man, reportedly ill with cancer and exhausted by the agony devouring Greece, just couldn't take it anymore.

His name was Dimitris. And so he walked out Wednesday morning onto the beautiful and peaceful Syntagma Square across the street from the Parliament. And with him he carried the tools of his martyrdom: He carried a piece of paper that was his suicide note, and he carried a gun.

He stood on a patch of grass near a tree in the shade. Then he pulled the trigger.

And instantly, the 77-year-old retired pharmacist became a symbol in this economically desperate nation, where one-fifth of the workforce is unemployed.

News traveled fast, and by nightfall rioters were breaking up marble steps and throwing the chunks of rock at a phalanx of police. The cops returned fire with tear gas as the so-called anarchists with their faces covered attacked the beautiful Hotel Grand Bretagne. They painted the hotel wall with this slogan: Eat the rich.

And that's how I watched despair turn into rage.

"The politicians killed him!" said Iannis Kotaras, 82, a short man whose hands are thick with years of labor, as he stood near the spot of Dimitris' suicide and pointed up at the Parliament.

This was still morning, only an hour after the retiree fired his shot, and already the death was being codified and set into a political framework.

"He killed himself because those thieves up there caused it," Kotaras said. "They're worse than thieves. ... They do not take the crumbs. They take all of the fat."

Kotaras had lived for a time in Montreal and tried to speak English, but we got along in Greek. I said: Old man, is it a sin to use a man's suicide for politics?

"Ordinarily, yes, it would be something unworthy," he said. "But he's the one who did that when he killed himself. He said he didn't want his children to suffer from his debts. He blamed those whores in Parliament."

"He shouldn't have killed himself," said another old man, his hands folded behind his back in the eastern fashion. "He should have taken that gun and killed them (members of Parliament)."

I asked him: Do you think it is so easy to kill people? You just walk up and shoot them so easily? Are you capable of murder?

"And why not?" said the hands-folded man, although his shrug explained he knew what he said was foolish, but by then he couldn't back down.

"Hang them all!" said another. "Traitors!"

I walked away from them, thinking that they were just toothless old men barking empty nonsense. By nightfall, it was clear that young men can bark just as loudly. But these young men had rocks.

It happened this way. As the sun set, the square was filled with university students, chanting, hundreds at first, then at least a thousand, called by social media to mourn Dimitris the suicide.

"We are here to show our solidarity with the people," said one of the protesters, Constantina Tsoukala, a law student at the University of Athens. "There are no jobs. There's no hope for the future for us.

"This morning a man killed himself because of the absurdity."

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