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Cars and TransportationGreece

Greece: Thousands protest train crash as PM offers apology

March 5, 2023

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has apologized for the train crash that killed 57 people. Protesters are holding the government and rail company responsible for the tragedy.

People gather during a protest outside the Greek parliament, in Athens
Thousands have gathered again in central Athens amid anger over the deadly crashImage: Yorgos Karahalis/AP/picture alliance

Mourning swelled into anger again in Athens on Sunday as thousands of people gathered in front of the Greek parliament on Syntagma Square to protest against the government and rail company they hold responsible for the recent deadly train crash. 

Protesters have already clashed with police in previous days, while train worker unions have been holding strikes. They said they had already warned the rail company, Hellenic Train, about safety issues on the line.

There were early reports of violence at Sunday's protest, called by university students, public sector employees and rail workers, as police clashed with groups of protesters.

A Molotov cocktail explodes next to police officers during a protest after the serious train crash on the night of March 01
A Molotov cocktail explodes next to police officers during a protest after the deadly train crashImage: Yorgos Karahalis/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Police said some 12,000 people had shown up, with many releasing black balloons into the sky in memory of the dead. Others carried signs with slogans such as "Down with murderous governments."

People obverse a minute of silence, during a protest outside the Greek parliament, in Athens
Protesters held black balloons to symbolize those killed in the crashImage: Aggelos Barai/AP/picture alliance

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis turned to Facebook on Sunday to offer an apology to the families of the 57 victims in Tuesday's train crash, which has become the worst rail disaster in Greek history.

What did Mitsotakis say?

"As prime minister, I owe a big apology to everyone, but above all to the victims' relatives," Mitsotakis wrote on Facebook.

"Both personally, but also in the name of all those who have governed the country for years," he added.

"Because, indeed, it cannot be that in Greece in 2023, two trains can run on the same line in different directions and nobody notice," the prime minister continued.

In an apparent agreement with protesters, Mitsotakis added that: "We cannot, we don't want to and we mustn't hide behind human error."

The AFP news agency reported that investigators were looking at the possibility of bringing criminal charges against Hellenic Train.

For its part, the company released a statement on Saturday defending its response. "These are particularly difficult days for the country and for our company," it said.

Responsible station master expected in court

The 59-year-old man, who has already admitted responsibility for the accident, was expected in court on Sunday after his hearing was postponed on Saturday.

If charged and convicted of negligent homicide, he could face life imprisonment.

However, details about the incident have come out revealing that the as-yet-unidentified suspect may have lacked the appropriate experience. German news agency dpa reported that he had begun a traineeship last year despite being more than ten years older than the maximum age allowed for such a position.

The fact that he was left unsupervised during a busy holiday weekend has also raised further questions.

"In the case, there are important new elements that need to be examined," the suspect's lawyer, Stefanos Pantzartsidis, said.

ab/fb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)