Greek Suicide: Austerity Measures In Greece Lead To Elderly Man Killing Self In Syntagma Square

By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS 04/04/12 01:50 PM ET


A Greek Orthodox priest holds a memorial service, at the site where an elderly man fatally shot himself at Athens’ main Syntagma square, on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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.”

Greece has relied on international rescue loans since May 2010. To secure them, Athens implemented harsh austerity measures, slashing pensions and salaries while repeatedly raising taxes. But the belt-tightening worsened the recession and led to thousands of job losses that left one in five Greeks unemployed.

“As a Greek, I am truly shocked,” Dimitris Giannopoulos, an Athens doctor, said before the protest. “I am shocked because I see that (the government is) destroying my dignity … and the only thing they care about are bank accounts.”

Police said a handwritten note was found on the retired pharmacist’s body in which he attributed his decision to the debt crisis.

According to a text of the note published by local media, the man said the government had made it impossible for him to survive on the pension he had paid into for 35 years. “I find no other solution than a dignified end before I start searching through the trash for food,” read the note. Police did not confirm whether it was genuine.

Greece has seen an increase in suicides over the past two years of economic hardship, during which the country repeatedly teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

Police did not release the pharmacist’s name and offered few other details.

By Wednesday evening, dozens of written messages had been pinned to the tree under which the man shot himself, some reading: “It was a murder, not a suicide,” and “Austerity kills.”

Hundreds of protesters made their way across the street from the square to outside Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, chanting: “This was not a suicide, it was a state-perpetrated murder” and “Blood flows and seeks revenge.”

Dozens of riot police stood guard.

Papadopoulos, the protest organizer, said the suicide shows Greeks can take no more austerity.

“This suicide is political in nature and heavy in symbolism. It’s not like a suicide at home,” Papadopoulos said in a telephone interview. “There was a political suicide note, and it happened in front of a clearly political site, Parliament, where the austerity measures are approved.”

Prime Minister Loucas Papademos issued a statement as protesters gathered at the site of the suicide.

“It is tragic for one of our fellow citizens to end his life,” he said. “In these difficult hours for our society we must all – the state and the citizens – support the people among us who are desperate.”

Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis described the incident as “a human tragedy,” but said it should not become part of the political debate.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances that led that man to his act,” Kapsis said. “I believe we must all remain calm and show respect for the true events, which we do not yet fully know.”

Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Socialist party, said the suicide “is so overwhelming that it renders any political comment unbecoming and cheap.”

“Let us reflect on the condition of the country and of our society in terms of solidarity and cohesion,” said Venizelos, who served as finance minister for eight months before resigning to lead the Socialists.

Conservative party head Antonis Samaras said the tragedy highlighted the urgency of getting Greece out of the crisis.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first (suicide),” he said. “They have reached record levels.”

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Associated Press Television News’ Efty Katsareas contributed.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Greek Suicide: Austerity Measures In Greece Lead To Elderly Man Killing Self In Syntagma Square.

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BofA plunges as AIG sues for $10 billion fraud

Mon, Aug 8 2011

By Jonathan Stempel and Joe Rauch

NEW YORK/CHARLOTTE, North Carolina | Mon Aug 8, 2011 7:23pm EDT

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp shares plunged more than 20 percent on Monday, capping a three-day rout in which the largest U.S. bank lost nearly one-third of its market value.

Monday’s decline was triggered by a $10 billion lawsuit from American International Group Inc alleging a “massive” mortgage fraud.

The action raised new concerns about burgeoning losses related to the bank’s $2.5 billion purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp in 2008 and prompted questions about the stability of the bank’s management team.

“The bank just can’t get its hands around the liabilities it’s facing,” said Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

He said investors fear the bank will have to raise equity to cover potential losses, diluting existing shareholdings.

Bank of America spokesman Jerry Dubrowski countered that the bank has adequate reserves to buy back mortgages if necessary and is comfortable with its strategic plans.

“We don’t think we need to raise capital to run our businesses,” he said. “We have the right strategy and management team in place.”

In a separate court filing on Monday AIG, challenged an $8.5 billion agreement Bank of America reached in late June to end litigation by several large investors who bought securities backed by subprime Countrywide loans.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and other investors have previously tried to block that accord, saying the settlement amount is too small.

Bank of America shares closed down $1.66 at $6.51 after earlier plunging to $6.31, their lowest since March 2009. More than $30 billion of the company’s market value has been wiped out since August 3.

Monday’s drop came amid a broad market selloff, led by financial stocks, on the first trading day after Standard & Poor’s downgraded its rating of U.S. government debt.

The shares of Citigroup Inc, another large bank, fell 16.4 percent to $27.95.

The cost of insuring Bank of America debt against default, an indicator of potential trouble at companies, rose roughly 50 percent on Monday to a level higher than several of the bank’s main rivals, data provider Markit said.

It now costs $310,000 a year to insure the bank’s bonds for five years, compared with $143,000 for the bonds of JP Morgan Chase & Co, the second largest U.S. bank….

CONFIDENCE AND TRUST

AIG’s lawsuit also upped the ante for Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan, who is struggling to contain losses from the Countrywide deal engineered by his predecessor, Kenneth Lewis.

“Brian Moynihan and the management team have not gained the confidence and trust of investors,” said Jonathan Finger, whose Finger Interests Number One Ltd in Houston owns BofA stock and was a vocal critic of Lewis.

Moynihan is scheduled to participate in a public conference call on Wednesday hosted by Fairholme Capital Management LLC, one of its largest shareholders.

“Brian will have to give the performance of his life,” said Tony Plath, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where Bank of America is based.

Moynihan’s saving grace might be that the bank’s board has no obvious candidates to replace him, said Miller of FBR Capital Markets.

Some large investors appeared to have avoided some of the debacle.

Hedge fund manager David Tepper, who has made a fortune betting against financial company shares, sold nearly half of his stake in Bank of America during the second quarter, according to a regulatory filing from his company, Appaloosa Management.

“Bank of America’s stock price will remain under duress,” said Michael Mullaney, who helps invest $9.5 billion at Fiduciary Trust Co in Boston and who said his company has sold nearly all its BofA shares.

Analysts said the market attack will get close scrutiny from U.S. regulators, given the size and importance of Bank of America to the banking system and the economy. The bank took $45 billion of federal bailout money during the financial crisis of 2008, which it later repaid.

“I have no doubt that the Fed and the Treasury Department are watching this closely,” said Bert Ely, an independent banking consultant.

A spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a part of the Treasury Department that regulates national banks, declined to comment. The Federal Reserve did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

BANK LIED, AIG SAYS

In its lawsuit, AIG accused Bank of America and its Countrywide and Merrill Lynch units of misrepresenting the quality of its mortgage-backed securities, including more than $28 billion bought by AIG. The insurer also said the bank lied to credit rating agencies about the underlying loans.

AIG said it examined 262,322 mortgages underlying 349 offerings bought between 2005 and 2007 and found 40.2 percent of the mortgages were significantly inferior to what had been represented.

“Defendants were engaged in a massive scheme to manipulate and deceive investors,” said the lawsuit, filed in a New York state court in Manhattan.

Bank of America said the insurer has only itself to blame.

“AIG recklessly chased high yields and profits throughout the mortgage and structured finance markets,” spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said. “It is the very definition of an informed, seasoned investor, with losses solely attributable to its own excesses and errors.”

The AIG lawsuit is the latest in a growing number from investors seeking to hold banks responsible for losses on soured mortgage securities that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

AIG, which received $182.3 billion of government bailouts and is 77 percent owned by U.S. taxpayers, said in a statement it expects to pursue other litigation to recover losses from counterparties that “sought to profit at our expense.”

According to The New York Times, AIG is preparing a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs Group Inc, which received $12.9 billion as one of the biggest beneficiaries of the government bailouts. Goldman spokesman Stephen Cohen declined to comment.

In addition to the plunge in the shares of Bank of America and Citigroup, other banks with heavy declines on Monday included JPMorgan Chase, which fell 9.4 percent, and Goldman, which lost 6 percent. AIG shares fell 10 percent, or $2.52, to $22.58.

The law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan filed the AIG complaint. Michael Carlinsky, who signed the AIG complaint on behalf of the law firm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The AIG lawsuit is American International Group Inc et al v. Bank of America Corp et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County No. 652199/2011.

The other case is In re: The Bank of New York Mellon in the same court, No. 651786/2011.

via BofA plunges as AIG sues for $10 billion fraud | Reuters.

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