John Kolesidis / Reuters
Anthoula Christoula, former wife of Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself at central Syntagma square last Wednesday, cries over his coffin during a funeral procession in Athens on Saturday.
In a somber atmosphere in an Athens graveyard, hundreds of Greeks chanted political slogans Saturday at the funeral of Dimitris Christoulas, a pensioner who became a symbol of the pain inflicted by austerity when he shot himself in the head outside parliament.
With red roses and carnations in their hands, weeping mourners chanted "Hero!" and "They killed you!" as the 77-year-old's coffin was carried into the cemetery during the non-religious ceremony. Christoulas' coffin was carried away at the end -- activists said his body would be cremated in neighboring Bulgaria. Funeral ceremonies in Greece are usually carried out by an Orthodox priest, but the church opposes cremation and refuses to officiate at burials of people who take their own lives.
The highly public suicide on Wednesday of the retired pharmacist prompted a wave of sympathy in Greece, where many are struggling amid a deep recession. The government is facing a June deadline to announce a 14 billion euro ($18.29 billion) austerity plan if it wants to keep receiving the EU-IMF aid it needs to avoid bankruptcy.
Garlands, candles and notes of tribute have turned a tree at the spot where he died into an impromptu shrine, in Syntagma Square which has been the epicentre of months of angry protest over Greece's plight.
"I cannot find any other form of struggle except a dignified end before I have to start scrounging for food from the rubbish," he wrote in his suicide note.
At Saturday's ceremony, friends and relatives read poems and letters to honour Christoulas, who wrote that he hoped young people would take up arms and hang "national traitors."
Shouting "Let's take to the streets!" the mourners pledged to fight the wage cuts and tax hikes imposed on ordinary Greeks to keep the debt-burdened country out of bankruptcy.
"Father, you couldn't put up with them killing freedom, democracy, dignity," said Christoulas' 43-year-old daughter, Emmy, dressed in black.
"You paid with your sacrifice. Now it's our turn. Father ... We are so many here today because - as the note of a young man (one of many left at his shrine) said - 'We are 11 million and our name is Resistance.'"
The ceremony was followed by a march to his shrine in Syntagma Square.
The popular anger against austerity measures being imposed under the EU-IMF bailout effort for Greece has complicated efforts to govern. But a poll released Saturday showed that the main parties backing the bailout are recovering some popularity as a general election nears.
Support for the conservative New Democracy and the Socialist PASOK now reaches a combined 40 percent from 26 percent in February, according to an Alco survey for the Proto Thema newspaper.
Other polls showed the parties' support had sunk over the past few weeks because of unpopular austerity measures, casting doubt on whether their coalition could survive an election.
But Saturday's poll found that backing for New Democracy had risen by nearly 6 percentage points over the past two months to 24 percent. PASOK's ratings - boosted by the election of former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos as its new leader - now stand at 16 percent, or twice as much as the February reading, according to the poll.
Support for the two big parties traditionally rises as elections near, and the parties also benefit from their strong support of Greece's membership of the euro, backed by a majority of voters.
The election is expected on May 6.
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