Thousands took to the streets of Greece’s capital city Athens, on Sunday (March 5) which also led to brief clashes between police and a group of protesters after they gathered in front of the Greek parliament on Syntagma Square. The demonstration was held over the deadliest train crash in the country following a call by the students, rail workers and public sector employees. Meanwhile, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis issued an apology for the accident which killed nearly 60 people.
What happened at the protests?
A small group of protesters on Sunday threw petrol bombs at police who responded with tear gas and hand grenades to disperse the crowd, reported Reuters. The crash took place between passenger and freight trains near the city of Larissa on Tuesday which killed at least 57 people out of the 350 passengers on board.
The incident has since sparked outrage across Greece and led to multiple protests calling for better safety regulations for the country’s rail network. Additionally, candle-light marches were also held over the week in memory of the victims, many of whom were students returning from a weekend break. At least nine of those killed in the passenger train were students at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
According to the police, around 12,000 people were present for the demonstration on Sunday. Demonstrators also released black balloons in the sky in memory of those who lost their lives due to the accident and some even carried signs like “Down with killer governments”. The family members and relatives of those killed were also expected to gather outside Larissa station for a memorial.
Railway workers denounce cost-cutting, underinvestment in rail infra
Since the accident, railway workers who lost their colleagues have been staging rotating walkouts since Wednesday which has paralysed the country’s train and metro services. The workers have denounced the government’s cost-cutting and underinvestment in the rail infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the rail company Hellenic Train, which has become a focal point of public anger since the incident, released a statement late Saturday defending its actions. Hundreds of people also protested outside the company headquarters in Athens while a legal source told AFP that they are looking at the possibility of pressing charges against some of the senior members of Hellenic Train.
A station master in Larissa, who was on duty at the time of the crash, was charged with endangering lives and disrupting public transport.
PM Mitsotakis issues apology
The Greek PM took to Facebook, on Sunday and wrote “As prime minister, I owe everyone, but above all to the relatives of the victims, a big apology. Both personally, but also in the name of all those who have governed the country for years”. He added, “Indeed, it cannot be that in Greece in 2023, two trains can run on the same line in different directions and nobody notices.”
However, we can’t, won’t and shouldn’t hide behind a human error, said the Greek PM. He also spoke about how the investigation into the accident is underway and justice for those responsible will be delivered soon. Notably, Mitsotakis also went on to acknowledge the lack of remote surveillance and signalling system which the railway workers’ unions said has led to deficient safety systems throughout the rail network.
He said that if the remote system had been in place “it would have been, in practice, impossible for the accident to happen”. The Greek PM also announced that the country will seek inputs from European Commission and friendly countries on improving rail safety.
(With inputs from agencies)