The Greek police dispersed this Wednesday with tear gas to the demonstrators who launched incendiary bombs during a protest by tens of thousands of people outraged by the worst railway tragedy in the country: at least 57 people died and 14 remain hospitalized after a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train on Feb. 28.
The largest demonstration took place in Athens, with about 40,000 participantson which banners were seen proclaiming: “It’s not an accident, it’s a crime.”
Outside parliament, dozens of hooded men threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at riot police, who responded with volleys of tear gas.
In Thessaloniki – the country’s second city – police clashed with protesters outside the train station.
The police reported that more than 65,000 protesters took to the streets across the country.
Public service employees are also in strike for 24 hoursas well as primary school teachers, doctors, bus and metro drivers, and those responsible for maritime connections with the country’s many islands.
At the demonstration in the capital of Greece, many banners called for the resignation of the prime minister’s government, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“I am here to express my tribute to the deceased, but also my indignation and frustration,” he told the news agency. AFP in Athens Niki Siouta, a 54-year-old civil engineer. “This government has to end,” he said.
Other protesters carried the slogan “Call me when you arrive”, in reference to the message sent by a mother to her son who died in the accident.
Many Greeks also express their resentment towards what they consider the decline of public services from the austerity plans imposed by Greece’s creditors to bail out the country.
Greece faces a wave of outrage not seen since the 2008-2018 financial crisis over increasingly violent demonstrations.
For Spyridoula Togia, a 30-year-old teacher, this railway tragedy is “the drop that broke the camel’s back”.
Many of the victims were young people and students.. In recent days, images of broken parents burying their children, often broadcast live on television, have further shocked the country.
The manager of Larisa’s gas station, who took responsibility for the accident, is under preventive detention.
The two trains traveled several kilometers on the same track, without anyone noticing, until they collided head-on on the night of February 28 near Larissa, 350 kilometers north of Athens.
After this “national tragedy”, as the authorities described it, the Greeks held their leaders to account, starting with the Prime Minister.
The head of government, who faces general elections in the spring, was heavily criticized for having assured hours after the catastrophe that he was a “tragic human error”.
The rail unions angrily recalled that they had warned about the serious technical flaws in this line long before the drama and that were not heard.
The prime minister apologized to the victims’ families on Sunday, too late for many. Also asked the European Union for help which will send experts from the European Union Railways Agency (ERA) to Athens this week.
Anger is also directed at the railway company Hellenic Train, owned by Italy’s state railways, whose Athens headquarters was tarred at a protest on Friday with the word “murderers”.
This company, which manages passenger and freight traffic, responded to the accusations by pointing out that responsibility for maintaining the network fell on the Greek public company OSE.
(By Marina Rafenberg and Yannick Pasquet – AFP)