ATHENS, Greece — A Greek retiree shot himself dead in the busiest public square in Athens during morning rush hour Wednesday, leaving a note police said linked his suicide with the country's acute financial woes.
Hours later, more than 1,500 anti-austerity protesters gathered in the square, responding to social media calls for peaceful demonstrations accusing Greek politicians of driving people to despair with harsh cutbacks implemented to secure vital international bailouts.
Limited scuffles broke out between the protesters and riot police, who used a small amount of pepper spray to repel youths throwing bottles of water at them.
The 77-year-old retired pharmacist drew a handgun and shot himself in the head near a subway exit on central Syntagma Square, which was crowded with commuters, police said. The square, opposite Greece's Parliament, is a focal point for public protests.
The incident jolted public opinion and quickly entered political debate, with the prime minister and the heads of both parties backing Greece's governing coalition expressing sorrow.
"A pharmacist ought to be able to live comfortably on his pension," said Vassilis Papadopoulos, a spokesman for the "I won't pay" group. "So for him to reach the point of suicide out of economic hardship means a lot. It shows how the social fabric is unraveling."