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Greek PM asks Supreme Court to speed up cases related to rail disaster

ATHENS — Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday urged the country’s Supreme Court to speed up investigations into last week’s deadly train crash that killed at least 57 people and sparked angry protests.

“The Greek people want an immediate and thorough investigation into the criminal incidents related to this tragic accident,” Mitsotakis wrote in a letter to prosecutors about the clash last week.

“I ask that you give priority to these cases and, if you deem it appropriate, to investigate what is happening at the highest possible level” and whether “systemic failures in the rail sector” constituted criminal offences.

With the government seeking re-election in April, Mitsotakis’ move is seen as necessary to assuage public outrage, as such investigations in Greece can usually take several years.

The crash happened last Tuesday in central Greece when a freight train collided head-on with a passenger train carrying over 350 passengers, including many young students.

The deadly crash sparked angry mass protests and clashes with police in parts of the country. Around 12,000 people demonstrated in Athens on Sunday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Monday that she had spoken about “further technical support” for the modernization of the Greek railways.

Experts from the Commission and the EU Railway Agency (ERA) will travel to Athens this week, she added after a phone call with Mitsotakis.

A Commission spokesman said on Thursday the EU had already supported 16 railway projects in Greece with almost 700 million euros ($741 million) since 2014.

– forgiveness –

The Greek authorities initially blamed a “human error” on the part of the station master on duty at the time of the collision for the accident.

However, rail unions say they have repeatedly warned operator Hellenic Train about safety issues on the line, saying successive governments’ mismanagement of the network and failure to implement safety reforms contributed to the fatal collision.

Greek television showed harrowing images of crying parents demanding information about children who had been on board the train and berating the authorities for what had happened.

Train services in Greece have been restricted for the sixth day in a row.

On Sunday, Mitsotakis asked forgiveness from the families of those killed.

“As Prime Minister, I owe it to everyone, but especially to the families of the victims, to ask for forgiveness,” he wrote in a message to the nation.

The Prime Minister has ordered the establishment of an expert inquiry to examine systemic flaws in the train system and to support the Supreme Court inquiry with its findings.

Mitsotaki’s letter on Monday indicated that any Supreme Court inquiry would be separate from the experts’ inquiry.

He acknowledged that among the issues plaguing the infrastructure were delays in technology updates.

“We all know that the country’s railways are deeply problematic,” he said.

The government will announce steps to “immediately improve” train safety this week, spokesman Yiannis Economou said on Monday.

– mismanagement –

For decades, Greece’s 2,552-kilometer rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and outdated equipment.

Economou said Monday that recurrent vandalism of the network had played a role in undermining security, as had staff cuts imposed at the behest of Greece’s EU-IMF creditors during the country’s decades-long debt crisis.

Highlighting the state of the railway system, the Interior Ministry said Monday that state-owned network operator OSE “was asking for staff to move and no one was interested.”

On-line safety systems are still not fully automated five years after Greece’s state-owned railway service TrainOSE was privatized and sold to Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, which became Hellenic Train.

The station master on duty during the collision, identified as 59-year-old Vassilis Samaras, has admitted being partly responsible for the crash.

He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Greek media have reported that the stationmaster, despite little experience, was left unsupervised at his post over a busy bank holiday weekend.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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