Riot police and protesters clashed in Athens on Wednesday after a 77-year-old retiree killed himself near the Greek parliament building, leaving a note that blamed the suicide on cuts to his state pension.

Dimitris Christoulas wrote that the government's tough austerity measures had made it impossible for him to survive, media outlets in Greece reported.

According to police, the retired pharmacist shot himself in the head with a handgun near the entrance to a subway station in crowded Syntagma Square in the center of the capital.

News of the suicide triggered violence in Athens later Wednesday when about 1,500 people hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at officers outside the parliament building.

I have no other way to react apart from finding a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage for food, read Christoulas's suicide note, which was handed over to police by his daughter. Police didn't confirm the note's authenticity.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos reacted publicly to the death, saying: It is tragic when a fellow human being takes his own life. In those difficult times for our society we must all -- state and citizens -- support those next to us who stand in despair.

Among those protesting in Athens, anger about the government's economic policies was clear. 

A pharmacist ought to be able to live comfortably on his pension. So for him to reach the point of suicide out of economic hardship means a lot. It shows how the social fabric is unraveling, the Associated Press quoted Vassilis Papadopoulos, spokesman for an anti-tax group, as saying.

On Thursday, before the start of another rally, shocked Athenians visited the site of the shooting. Some expressed sadness at the desperation of a fellow citizen, but also anger, the New York Times reported.

It's not just heart-wrenching, it's outrageous, said Haris Anastasiadis, a 48-year-old plumber, pointing to the Parliament building. It's those in there that killed him, and they're killing us all.

The sentiment echoed many of the notes pinned to the tree, which Christoulas leaned against before he pulled the trigger, according to witnesses. This is not suicide, it is political murder, one note said. Enough is enough, read another. Austerity kills, declared yet another.

Greece since 2010 has agreed to a series of demands by its European Union partners to take debt-fighting steps including cutting public workers' salaries and pensions and raising taxes in exchange for EU-directed loans to rescue the country's economy.

The incident follows warnings by Greek officials that depression and suicide were increasing as government actions to tackle Greece's huge debt began taking their toll on citizens. According to Greek health ministry data cited by CNN, the country's suicide rate rose 40 percent through the first five months of 2011, compared with the same period a year earlier, when the first austerity measures were implemented.

Greece's rates of unemployment and people living below the poverty line have both soared to 20 percent. Thousands of civil service jobs have been axed while salaries and benefits have been slashed as the government struggles to reduce the crippling public debt.

Elsewhere in Europe, harsh austerity budgets have been linked to recent suicides and attempted suicides.

In Italy last week, two men set themselves on fire to protest their financial hardship. A 58-year-old builder accused of tax evasion immolated himself in his car in Bologna, while a Moroccan man, 27, set himself ablaze in Verona after saying he hadn't been paid in four months.