More than 40,000 protest Greek train tragedy
ATHENS: Tens of thousands of people protested across Greece on Thursday as workers staged a mass strike to express their outrage at last month’s train disaster that killed 57 people.
The February 28 tragedy exposed decades of safety deficiencies on Greek railways and put the conservative government under severe pressure ahead of national elections.
Police said more than 40,000 people protested across the country on Thursday, including 25,000 people in Athens and around 8,500 in each of the country’s next largest cities, Thessaloniki and Patras.
“This crime will not be forgotten,” chanted protesters from the country’s communist trade union, PAME, as the crowd marched to parliament in the capital.
Students chanted “murderers” and protesters threw flyers with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wearing a stationmaster’s hat, with the caption “It’s everyone’s fault but mine”.
The rail disaster happened just before midnight when a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train in central Greece after the two accidentally ran on the same track.
Most of the passengers were students returning from a holiday weekend.
Thursday’s 24-hour strike is the largest in days of industrial action in the wake of the disaster, this time called by leading Greek private and public sector unions.
The strike shut down public services, flights and ferries.
“Things have to change in this country, we just can’t mourn all these deaths,” Athens protester Stavroula Hatzitheodorou said, referring to the deadly wildfires that have ravaged Greece in recent years as well as the train crash.
“We hope things will change in these elections,” Hatzitheodorou, who works in the private sector, told AFP.
A station master and three other railway officials were charged, but public anger focused on the network’s long-standing mismanagement and the country was rocked by a series of sometimes violent mass protests.
Last week, around 65,000 people took part in demonstrations across the country, around 40,000 of them in Athens.
In addition to the 57 killed, several victims remain hospitalized, including a passenger who is fighting for his life.
Italian state-owned Hellenic Train, which operates rail services in Greece, said those injured in the accident and the families of the dead would each receive between 5,000 and 42,000 euros ($44,600) “to meet immediate needs”.
“This is by no means an admission of guilt,” the company said late Wednesday.
The father of a deceased passenger turned down the offer.
“We don’t want their money… that was mass murder, I refuse to accept an apology from murderers,” Pavlos Aslanidis told Alpha TV on Thursday.
“If this had been a serious country, everyone in the Department of Transport would be handcuffed,” he said.
Polls are slipping
Greece’s transport minister resigned after the crash and Mitsotakis has tried to calm public anger by repeatedly apologizing and promising a transparent investigation.
Rail services ground to a complete halt across the country after the accident, although acting Transport Minister Georgios Gerapetritis said this week services would gradually resume from March 22.
Gerapetritis said a report from experts investigating the tragedy would be presented in a month.
Investigators have separately launched an inquiry into possible mismanagement of railroad funds over the past 15 years.
Gerapetritis and former transport ministers are due to appear before a parliamentary committee next Monday to answer lawmakers’ questions about the tragedy.
Amid mounting public anger ahead of the elections expected in May, Mitsotakis has shrunk a lead from 7.5 points in the polls to just over 3 percent in recent polls.
He has come under fire for blaming “human error” for the accident and the stationmaster on duty at the time, who allegedly accidentally routed the trains onto the same section of track.
But rail unions have long warned of problems on the underfunded and understaffed train network.
Mitsotakis had been expected to set an April election date. The elections are now expected in May.
Source: Crypto News Deutsch