4:20 PM EDT, April 4, 2012
ATHENS -- It all started Wednesday morning when a man in Constitution Square reportedly shouted that he didn't want to leave his children in debt and then fatally shot himself in the head.
The man, a 77-year-old retired pharmacist, instantly became a symbol in this economically desperate nation, where about one fifth of the adult population is out of work.
When I got to the suicide scene about an hour later, the man had been taken away. A witness told me that tourists had tried to take pictures of the body lying beside a tree, and the locals had stopped them.
As the day wore on, protesters gathered in the square in front of the Parliament building, summoned by social media. That demonstration grew to several thousand, mostly young people. They accused the government of killing the elderly pharmacist by allowing the economy to spiral out of control. "Murderers!" they shouted. "Liars!" "Killers! "Pigs!"
I asked one of the protesters, Constantina Tsoukala, a law student at the University of Athens, why so many had gathered. "We are here to show our solidarity with the people," Tsoulaka said. "There are no jobs. There's no hope for the future for us.
This morning a man killed himself because of the absurdity."
Some protesters threw flares at police who lined up to protect Parliament. Eventually, the crowd thinned out after darkness descended.
But about 50 masked and helmeted anarchists stayed around, and some of them attacked my hotel, the Grand Bretagne, as I watched from inside. The protesters used a piece of iron to smash part of the hotel's marble steps into chunks of about half a pound that they could throw at the building. One window was smashed before the hotel put down its security screens to fend off flying objects.
Tear gas enveloped the area, and the anarchists lit small fires, reportedly in an attempt to burn off the gas. About 100 riot police in white helmets and visors, holding plastic riot shields and batons, pushed the rioters across Constitution Square.
The situation appeared to calm down, at least for a few hours overnight, until the nation awakens and sees that its economic agony remains unresolved.