Protesters and police clash in Greece at rail disaster demonstration
Evangelo Sipsas in Athens

Violent clashes broke out between police and protesters outside the Greek parliament in Athens as thousands attended a rally following the nation's worst rail disaster that killed 57, according to AFP news agency reporters.

Some demonstrators set fire to rubbish bins and threw Molotov cocktails, while police responded by firing tear gas and stun grenades, clearing Syntagma Square of the protesters within a few minutes.


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Police said 12,000 people had gathered by the large esplanade in front of the parliament to demand accountability for Tuesday's head-on collision near the central city of Larissa that has sparked widespread outrage.

They had released hundreds of black balloons into the sky in memory of the dead, with some holding signs reading "Down with killer governments."


'They never listened to us'

"It's a shame the human lives are gone this way. Five years ago 100 people were burned to death, three years ago people drowned, and now this. Where is the safety? Who can guarantee that I'll be safe next time I use transportation, I'm frightened," questioned Giannis, a university student.

Rail workers have been striking since the day of the crash, demanding answers for the 11 workers that died. They claim that they have been warning the government about safety issues for over 20 years. The strike action has paralyzed train and metro services.

"They never listened to us. The infrastructure is poor and there are many mistakes, we have been saying this for many years," claimed Vassilis, a rail worker. "The only thing they've done is cut funding. And now the train tracks have been painted with the blood of innocent people. So I can't just stay home and do nothing, especially as I work in the industry."

Greece's prime minister asked for forgiveness from the families of those who were killed in the nation's worst rail disaster.

"As prime minister, I owe it to everyone, but especially to the victims' relatives, (to ask for) forgiveness," Kyriakos Mitsotakis wrote in a message addressed to the nation. "For the Greece of 2023, two trains heading in different directions cannot run on the same line and no one notices."

Protesters hold a banner reading
Protesters hold a banner reading "End of tolerance" and a black flag in front of the Greek parliament during a demonstration in Athens. /Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

Protesters hold a banner reading "End of tolerance" and a black flag in front of the Greek parliament during a demonstration in Athens. /Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP

The station master implicated in the disaster, whose identity has not been made public, has admitted responsibility for the accident. He was due in court on Sunday, a hearing postponed from the previous day.

The 59-year-old man, if he is charged with negligent homicide, faces life in jail if convicted. But his lawyer Stefanos Pantzartsidis insisted: "In this case, there are important new elements that need to be examined."

Details have emerged in Greek media of the station master's relative inexperience in the post and the fact that he was left unsupervised during a busy holiday weekend. Hellenic Train, the rail company that has become the focus of some of the anger expressed in the wake of the crash, released a statement defending its actions. One legal source has said that investigators are looking at the possibility of bringing charges against senior members of the company.


'Difficult days for the country'

Over the last few days, rail union officials have insisted they warned the company about the safety issues on the line. Hard questions are also being asked of the government over its failure to pursue rail safety reforms.

"These are particularly difficult days for the country and for our company," Hellenic Train said in a statement, pointing out that it had lost nine of its own employees in the crash.

Its staff were quick to reach the scene of the disaster and had been working closely with rescue teams and the authorities ever since, the company added. Kostas Genidounias, the head of the train drivers' union OSE, has said they had already warned the authorities about safety failings on the line where the crash happened.

And union leaders at Hellenic Train sounded the alarm just three weeks ago.


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