Anger boils in Greece over deadly rail disaster

Anger boils in Greece over deadly rail disaster

Anger boils in Greece over deadly rail disaster

Thousands of people demonstrated across Greece on March 3 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".

Police clashed with some of the demonstrators at a handful of protests, as public anger grew over the role that government mismanagement played in the tragedy.

A passenger train ran for several kilometres on the same track as an incoming freight train before the crash late Tuesday, reportedly after 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 young people studying at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University were among the dead, while another 26 others were injured.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is seeking re-election this spring, has blamed the disaster on "tragic human error".

But protests blaming government mismanagement continued on Friday, in the capital Athens and several major cities across Greece.

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

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

"Most of us knew people who were killed or wounded," said Sophia Hatzopoulou, 23, a philosophy student in Thessaloniki who was visibly angry.

"It's as if a part of us were lost."

Thousands gathered outside the Athens headquarters of operators Hellenic Train -- which took over network operations in 2017 -- to protest at decades of failure to improve rail network safety, despite close calls in past years.

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

Hundreds of people observed a minute of silence outside the Greek parliament in tribute to the victims of the disaster.

Later Friday, riot police and a small group of protesters clashed in central Athens, on the sidelines of a candle-lit vigil for the victims of the crash.

At the rally in Syntagma Square, adjacent to parliament, officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, an AFP reporter said. Around 3,000 people turned out for the demonstration.

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

Demonstrations also took place in other Greek cities Friday: about 700 turned out in Larissa, the town closest to the site of the disaster, while 500 demonstrated in the university town of Patros in the southwest Peloponnese, according to police.

A fresh demonstration is set to take place in Syntagma Square at 11 am (0900 GMT) on Sunday.

Survivors of the crash described scenes of horror and chaos. Some relatives were still desperately awaiting news of missing loved ones.

Roubini Leontari, the chief coroner at Larissa's general hospital, told broadcaster ERT on Thursday that more than 10 people were still unaccounted for, including two Cypriots.

Greece's train services were paralysed on Thursday by striking workers arguing that successive administrations' mismanagement of the network had contributed to the fatal collision.

That strike continued into Friday and is set to continue for another 48 hours more.

Rail unions say safety problems on the Athens-Thessaloniki railway line had been known for years.

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

The station master's case is due to be heard in court in Larissa on Saturday. He faces life imprisonment if found guilty.

"My client has assumed his share of responsibility," lawyer Stefanos Pantzartzidis said Thursday. "But we must not focus on a tree when there is a forest behind it."

ERT reported that the station master had been appointed to the post only 40 days earlier -- and after just three months' training.

But legal sources suggested that investigators were considering criminal charges against members of the management of Hellenic Train.

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

For decades, Greece's 2,552-kilometre (1,585-mile) rail network has been plagued by mismanagement, poor maintenance and obsolete equipment.

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".

Safety systems on the line are still not fully automated, five years after the state-owned Greek rail operator TrainOSE was privatised and sold to Italy's Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane and became Hellenic Train.