Demonstrators, police clash at Greece train crash protest

Protesters clashed with police in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens amid ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

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Clashes have erupted between police and a group of protesters outside the Greek Parliament in Athens on the sidelines of a protest by thousands of students and railway workers over Greece’s deadliest train accident in living memory.

A small group of protesters threw petrol bombs at police on Sunday and set fire to rubbish bins on Sunday.

Police responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades, clearing Syntagma Square of the demonstrators within minutes. The protesters then dispersed to nearby streets.

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Police said 12,000 people gathered at the grand esplanade in front of parliament to demand accountability for Tuesday’s head-on collision near the central town of Larissa, which sparked widespread outrage.

At least 57 people were killed and dozens injured when a passenger train carrying more than 350 people collided with a freight train on the same track in central Greece.

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Following protests across the country over the past three days, some 10,000 students, railway workers and groups affiliated with leftist parties gathered in Syntagma Square in Athens to express their condolences for the lost lives and demand better safety standards on the rail network .

“That crime will not be forgotten,” protesters shouted as they launched black balloons into the air. A sign read: “Their policy has cost lives.”

The train, traveling from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki, was packed with university students returning after a long holiday weekend. The disaster has sparked a wave of anger and a sharp focus on safety standards.

Rail workers, who also lost colleagues in the accident, have staged alternating strikes since Wednesday to denounce cost cutting and underinvestment in rail infrastructure, a legacy of Greece’s debilitating debt crisis from 2010 to 2018.

PM promises justice

The government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis blames human error for the crash. However, Mitsotakis said on Sunday that human error should not distract from responsibilities for a long-suffering rail network.

“As prime minister, I owe everyone, but especially the families of the victims, an apology,” he wrote on Facebook. “Justice will investigate the tragedy very quickly and determine liabilities.”

A stationmaster in the nearby town of Larissa who was on duty at the time of the accident has been charged this week with endangering lives and disrupting public transport.

The stationmaster, who cannot be named under Greek law, appeared before a magistrate on Sunday after his lawyer asked for extra time on Saturday to respond to the charges following new information about the case. Those proceedings are still ongoing.

Railway workers’ unions say safety systems across the entire railway network have been deficient for years because a remote monitoring and signaling system has not been delivered on time. They have called on the government to provide a timetable for the implementation of security protocols.

Mitsotakis said on Sunday that if there had been a remote system throughout the rail network, “it would have been impossible in practice 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 to improve rail safety.

Pope Francis said on Sunday that his thoughts were with the victims of the crash. “I pray for the dead, I am close to the wounded and their relatives, and may Our Lady comfort them,” he said in his weekly address to the crowds in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.

Train and metro services have come to a standstill due to strikes.