Bologna, Italy
Bologna, Italy Reuters

Italians are in shock after two men set themselves alight to protest financial hardships, according to reports.

Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that an Italian builder who was facing a trial for tax evasion and a Moroccan immigrant who had not been paid for months committed acts of self-immolation in separate incidents.

The 58-year-old Italian builder, identified as “Giuseppe C,” had written suicide notes to his wife, friends and tax agency before setting himself on fire in the central city of Bologna on Wednesday. Giuseppe was saved by a meter maid and is now in critical condition with severe burns in a hospital.

The builder was charged with not having paid €104,000 euros ($138,000) in taxes and fines over the past five years.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper said his suicide note declared that he had always paid his taxes and asked authorities to leave his wife alone.

In response to Italy’s enormous debt burdens, Prime Minister Mario Monti’s government has vowed to crack down on tax evaders and delinquents.

Tax fraud is estimated to cost the Rome government €120 billion ($160 billion) each year, Reuters reported.

The Moroccan, a 27-year old builder who lives in Verona in northern Italy, set himself alight on Thursday, apparently in imitation of the earlier Bologna incident.

“[The Moroccan] shouted out that he hadn't been paid for four months and poured petrol over himself before setting himself alight. Police raced to put the flames out and he has been taken to hospital,” a spokesman for Verona police, Pasquale d'Antonio, said.

Referring to the builder Giuseppe, former Italian premier Romano Prodi said in a statement: “It's a terrible sign of desperation, a single case of distress which sums up a moment of great difficulty. I hope he survives, but he is in a very serious state.”

BBC reported that Italian media has expressed much sympathy for the two men, citing that they were victimized by the economic crisis gripping much of Europe.

Unions have blamed the government’s austerity budget for the tragic tales, complaining that the burden falls heavily on ordinary workers.

Vincenzo Scudiere, the secretary of The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) trade union, said the builders’ self-immolations were a symptom of the utter exasperation felt by the weakest employees, Reuters reported.

Unions have already expressed their discontent with the government’s austerity budget which will, among other things, make it easier for companies to fire employees.

Sandro Bondi of the People of Freedom party told media: The tragic tale of the businessman ... should help people realize that the divisions between workers and businessmen are a fantasy of the past.”

According to data from the World Health Organization, Italy has a fairly modest suicide rate. In 2007, 6.3 put of 100,000 people in Italy killed themselves. By contrast, the suicide rates are four to five times higher in nations like Hungary and South Korea.