On Thursday, March 16, tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the 57 deaths in the train accident that occurred last month. Many workers went on a nationwide strike throughout Greece.
The tragedy on February 28 revealed long-standing safety shortcomings in Greek trains and has put great pressure on the conservative administration in advance of the general election. More than 40,000 people joined the nationwide protest on Thursday, including 25,000 protestors in Athens and 8500 in Thessaloniki and Patras, the two major cities in the nation.
Demonstrators threw gasoline bombs at a police cordon near the parliament. To tackle them the riot police responded with tear gas and sound grenades during a brief burst of violence that disrupted the peaceful protest. There were no casualties.
“This crime will not be forgotten,” shouted PAME activists as they marched towards the capital’s house of representatives.
Students yelled “murderers,” and demonstrators flung posters with the slogan “it is everyone’s fault but mine,” with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis donning a stationmaster’s cap.
A Train with 350 passengers on board collided with a cargo train at Tempi. The collision killed 57 people and left many others severely injured. Many of the passengers on the train were students returning from Greece’s raucous carnival.
Hellenic Train, the Italian-state-owned company operating all rail services in Greece, offered €5000 to those who got hurt in the tragedy and €42,000 to the families of the dead. The father of one of the victims who died in the crash rejected the offer.
He said on Thursday, “We don’t want their money.” “This was mass murder, and I refuse to accept an apology from murderers.” Everyone at the transport ministry would be in handcuffs had this been a serious country,”
Greece’s transport minister resigned from his position after the crash, and Mitsotakis has tried to calm public anger by repeatedly apologizing and vowing a transport inquiry on the matter. Also, with elections around the corner, he has promised to appoint more staff and fix the ailing railway sector with the help of the European Union. He has also urged the people not to allow their anger to divide society.
“We must win this war,” he said that he is determined to remove the factors that led to this tragic disaster.
Up till now, a station master and three railway officials have been taken into custody and the investigation is still going on, with people blaming the poor management by the authorities. On Thursday, public services were at a standstill including schools, flights, and public transport, as people from every corner joined the protest against the conservative government.
At a press conference, Georgios Gerapetritis, the new transport minister, admitted that serious errors were made the night of the accident, which he described as an “unprecedented national tragedy that has scarred us all.”
He declared that in addition to a number of safety-related steps, the government would speed up the implementation of a contract for automatic operations and signaling on the railway.
Meanwhile, it was expected that Mitsotakis would set an election date in April. Ballots are due in May.
Sources: CNA, DW