ATHENS (Reuters) – Clashes erupted briefly between police and a group of demonstrators in central Athens on Sunday on the fringes of a protest by thousands of students and railway workers over Greece’s deadliest train crash in living memory.
A small group of protesters hurled petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. The protesters then disperses to nearby streets.
At least 57 people were killed and dozens were injured on Tuesday when a passenger train with more than 350 people on board collided with a freight train on the same track in central Greece.
After protests over the past three days across the country, some 10,000 students, railway workers and groups affiliated with leftist parties gathered in an Athens square on Sunday to express sympathy for the lives lost and to demand better safety standards on the rail network.
“That crime won’t be forgotten,” protesters shouted as they released black balloons into the sky. A placard read: “Their policies cost human lives.”
The train, travelling from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki, was packed with university students returning after a long holiday weekend. The disaster has triggered an outpouring of anger, as well as a sharp focus on safety standards.
Railway workers, who also lost colleagues in the accident, have staged rotating walkouts since Wednesday to denounce cost-cutting and underinvestment in the rail infrastructure, a legacy of Greece’s debilitating debt crisis from 2010 to 2018.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government has blamed human error for the crash. However Mitsotakis said on Sunday that human error should not deflect from responsibilities for a long-suffering railway network.
“As prime minister, I owe everyone, but most of all the relatives of the victims, an apology,” he wrote on Facebook. “Justice will very fast investigate the tragedy and determine liabilities.”
A station master in the nearby city of Larissa who was on duty at the time of the crash was charged this week with endangering lives and disrupting public transport.
The station master, who cannot be named under Greek law, appeared before a magistrate on Sunday after his lawyer requested extra time on Saturday to respond to the charges following new information concerning the case. Those proceedings were ongoing.
Railway workers’ unions say safety systems throughout the rail network have been deficient for years as a remote surveillance and signalling system has not been delivered on time. They have called on the government to provide a timetable for the implementation of safety protocols.
Mitsotakis said on Sunday that if there had been a remote system in place throughout the rail network “it would have been, in practice, impossible for the accident to happen”.
Greece would soon announce action, he said, adding that Athens would seek expertise from the European Commission and other countries on improving rail safety.
Pope Francis said on Sunday his thoughts were with the crash victims. “I pray for the dead, I am close to the injured and their relatives, and may Our Lady comfort them,” he said in his weekly address to crowds in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. (This story has been corrected to clarify that the police used stun grenades, not hand grenades in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis and Stelios Misinas, Additional reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Thousands of outraged citizens took to the streets of Athens, Greece on Tuesday following the death of three people in a devastating train crash earlier in the day. Demonstrators marched from Omonia Square to the Ministry of Transport to protest the government’s inadequate response to the tragedy.
The crash happened around 8:30 AM nearby Adendro train station in northern Athens, when a passenger train slammed into a stationary freight car on a line used by millions of commuters each year. More than 70 people were injured, and three were killed in the collision.
The fatal incident immediately sparked national outrage and drove thousands of demonstrators onto the streets of Athens in a show of solidarity to the victims of the tragedy. In protest of what many consider to be the Greek government’s lack of concern for public safety and infrastructure, the march began at Omonia Square and ended at the Ministry of Transport building.
The protesters chanted, “We want justice!” and held up signs displaying pictures of the victims, bemoaning Greece’s chronically underfunded public transport infrastructure. Many attendees reported feeling “anger and sadness” and seeing their country’s “callousness towards public safety” on display.
The protest marked yet another example of the country’s regular citizens bringing issues of public safety and infrastructure to the fore. With the Greek government’s consistently dwindling budget, there is a fear among many that these issues will persist unless concerted action is taken.
As revelers marched through the city streets toward the Ministry of Transport, the gravity of the protesters’ cause became increasingly evident. The demonstration is a clear indicator of the level of collective anger – both over the deaths and the government’s lack of action – that is present in the country.
The tragedy of Tuesday’s train crash was a devastating reminder of the need for action on Greece’s infrastructure problems. As protesters march through Athens, it’s clear that the country’s citizens won’t stop fighting for safety and accountability until the government delivers on its promises.