Anger in Greece over deadly rail disaster

Thousands of people demonstrated across Greece on Friday to demand justice for at least 57 people killed in the country's worst rail disaster, with some protesters condemning the tragedy as "a crime".

At a few protests, police clashed with some demonstrators as public outrage grew over the role of government mismanagement in the tragedy.
Before the crash late Tuesday, a passenger train ran for several kilometers on the same track as an incoming freight train, reportedly because the station master in Larissa, central Greece, failed to reroute one of the trains.

It was carrying many students returning from a holiday weekend, and at least nine students from Thessaloniki's Aristotle University were killed, with another 26 injured.

The disaster has been blamed on "tragic human error," according to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is running for re-election this spring.

Protests against government mismanagement, however, continued on Friday in Athens and several other major cities across Greece.

"What happened was not an accident; it was a crime," Sofia, a 23-year-old Thessaloniki student, said. "We can't stand by and watch all of this happen."

The disaster has sparked widespread criticism of government failures in rail network management.

"Most of us knew people who were killed or injured," Sophia Hatzopoulou, a 23-year-old philosophy student from Thessaloniki who was visibly upset, said.

"It's as if we've lost a piece of ourselves."

- Desperately awaiting news - Thousands gathered outside Hellenic Train's Athens headquarters — which took over network operations in 2017 — to protest decades of failure to improve rail network safety, despite previous close calls.

"Murderers!" yelled the crowd as protesters daubed the word in red on the building's glass facade.

Hundreds of people observed a minute of silence outside the Greek parliament in memory of the disaster's victims.

Later that day, riot police clashed with a small group of protesters in central Athens, on the eve of a candle-lit vigil for the crash victims.

Officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in Syntagma Square, adjacent to parliament, according to an AFP reporter. The demonstration drew around 3,000 people.

A similar number protested in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, where police reported clashes with demonstrators throwing stones and petrol bombs on Thursday.

Demonstrations also took place in other Greek cities on Friday: 700 people demonstrated in Larissa, the town closest to the disaster site, and 500 in Patros, a university town in the southwest Peloponnese, according to police.

A new protest is scheduled for 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) on Sunday in Syntagma Square.

Those who survived the crash described scenes of horror and chaos. Some relatives were still waiting for word on missing loved ones.

The chief coroner at Larissa's general hospital, Roubini Leontari, told ERT on Thursday that more than ten people were still missing, including two Cypriots.

Striking workers in Greece shut down train services on Thursday, claiming that successive administrations' mismanagement of the network contributed to the fatal collision.

The strike continued into Friday and is expected to last another 48 hours.

Rail unions claim that safety issues on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line have been known for years.

The 59-year-old Larissa station master has been charged with negligent homicide, but his lawyer claims that other factors were at work.

On Saturday, the station master's case will be heard in court in Larissa. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

"My client has accepted his share of the blame," lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said on Thursday. "However, we must not concentrate on a tree when there is a forest behind it."

According to ERT, the station master was appointed only 40 days prior — and after only three months of training.

However, legal sources indicated that investigators were considering criminal charges against Hellenic Train's management.

A judicial source told AFP that police seized audio files and other items during a raid on the Larissa train station in central Greece, where the crash occurred.

Mismanagement, poor maintenance, and obsolete equipment have plagued Greece's 2,552-kilometer (1,585-mile) rail network for decades.

After the country's transport minister resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the crash, his replacement, Giorgos Gerapetritis, vowed a "complete evaluation of the political system and the state".

Five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator TrainOSE was privatized and sold to Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, the line's safety systems are still not fully automated.

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