Clashes break out as tens of thousands march in Greece to protest train disaster

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Tens of thousands of people marched in Athens and cities across Greece on Wednesday to protest the deaths of 57 people in the country’s worst rail disaster, which revealed significant rail safety shortcomings.

Trade unions and student associations organized the demonstrations, while strikes shut down ferries to the islands and public transport in Athens, where at least 30,000 people took part in the protest.

Clashes broke out after the rallies in Athens and two other cities.

More than 20,000 people attended rallies in Thessaloniki, Greece`s second largest city, where several dozen young people challenged a police cordon.

Twelve students from the city’s university were among those killed in last week’s head-on collision between two trains.

Police fired tear gas in the southern city of Patras, where a municipal band previously played music from a funeral march as they led the demonstration.

In the central city of Larissa, near the scene of the train collision, students chanted “No to profit over our lives!” with black balloons!

The accident happened on February 28 near the northern Greek city of Tempe. A passenger train collided with a freight carrier coming from the opposite direction on the same line, and some of the derailed wagons burst into flames.

Read also: Strike, protests in Greece as anger grows over train crash

A stationmaster accused of putting the trains on the same track has been charged with negligent homicide and other crimes, and the country’s transport minister and senior rail officials resigned the day after the crash.

But revelations of serious security loopholes on Greece’s busiest rail line have put the centre-right government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the defensive.

He has pledged the government’s full cooperation in an investigation into the crash.

“This is more than a train collision and a tragic train accident. You get the feeling that the country has gone off the rails,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, a spokesman for Greece’s main left-wing opposition party, Syriza.

Senior officials from a European Union rail agency were expected in Athens as part of the promised aid to help Greece improve rail safety.

The agency has publicly pointed to delays in the implementation of security measures in Greece in the past.

Security experts from Germany were also expected to travel to Greece to advise the government, Greece’s new transport minister, George Gerapetritis, said.

“I, too, express my anguish and heartbreak at what happened in Tempe. This is an unprecedented national tragedy, one that has marked all of us because of the magnitude of the tragedy: this unjustified loss of so many of our fellow human beings.” said Gerapetritis.

He acknowledged major omissions in safety procedures on the night of the crash. Strikes have shut down all national rail services since the collision.

Wednesday’s protests were also supported by striking civil service associations and groups to mark International Women’s Day.

Subways ran for a few hours in Athens to bring people to the demonstration. The strikes also closed state-run primary schools and public hospitals operated at reduced capacity.

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