An elderly man shot himself in the head on Wednesday in Athens central Syntagma Square, a focal point of anti-austerity protests, reportedly crying out that he did not want to leave his children in debt.

Police said the 77-year-old, whose identity was not revealed, killed himself outside the Syntagma metro station, around a hundred metres (yards) from parliament, which for two years has been the main rallying point for demonstrations against government austerity measures.

Dozens of rush-hour commuters were crossing the square at the time, and according to media reports, eyewitnesses heard the man cry out that he did not want to leave his children in debt.

"It must have been around 8:45 am (0545 GMT), I heard a bang but did not realise it was a gunshot," an elderly bystander told news website

"Then I saw the man on the ground with people around him," he said.

An ambulance was called to the scene and the man was taken to a nearby hospital but he was already dead, police said, adding that an investigation into a motive had been opened.

Depression and suicides have increased in Greece amid an economic crisis that has sent unemployment soaring and salaries and pensions plummeting, though the country's suicide rate is lower than the European average.

In 2009, it stood at three per 100,000 people or about a third lower than the European average, according to Eurostat.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs over the last year, and the unemployment rate is currently over a million, a quarter of the workforce.

A 38-year-old Albanian man killed himself on the island of Crete on Tuesday by jumping off his second-floor balcony. He had been unemployed for some time and facing financial hardship, local news reports said.

Several businessmen have also fatally shot themselves in the last few months as the country's sank into recession ever faster.

Authorities have been applying a tough economic overhaul since 2010, when the country was forced to appeal to the EU and the IMF for bailout loans after its borrowing costs hit the roof.

To secure loan payments, Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending and has slashed civil servant salaries and pensions by up to 40 percent.

In February, a civil servant threatened to jump off the offices of the state housing organisation OEK after the government said it would shut down the company. The woman was eventually persuaded to step back.