Protests continue in Greece over train crash, PM called to resign
Police say over 65,000 people joined the nationwide protests on Wednesday, and clashes between the police and demonstrators erupted in several cities, including Athens.
Violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters outside the Greek parliament in Athens on Wednesday as thousands attended a rally calling on the country's Prime Minister to resign, following the nation's worst railway disaster that resulted in tens of deaths and over 100 injuries.
On February 28, a head-on collision between "a freight train and the IC 62 train which departed from Athens to Thessaloniki” led to the death of 57 people, marking the worst railway incident that Greece has seen in more than 50 years.
According to the police, 65,000 protesters across the country took the streets, more than 40,000 of which flooded the streets of Athens while holding banners describing the tragic disaster as a crime rather than an accident. "It's not an accident, it's a crime," some banners read, while others read, "It could have been any of us on that train."
Read more: Greek police, protesters clash after rail disaster rally in Athens
According to AFP, Molotov cocktails and stones were used by protesters in masks to target riot law enforcement units outside the parliament, while the police targeted the crowd with tear gas canisters.
In Thessaloniki, protesters gathered in front of the local railway station and also clashed with the police.
"I am here to pay tribute to the dead but also to express my anger and my frustration," 54-year-old protester in Athens, Niki Siouta, told AFP.
Train and metro services have been paralyzed as Greek railway workers have extended a strike that began on March 2 in response to the accident, while doctors, bus drivers, and teachers also joined the strike.
"This government opts to spend money on the police and the army, but not for our safety," said Thanassis Oikonomou, a bus union representative who is on strike.
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A PR stunt a little too late
Nationwide calls for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to quit following the tragic incident have raised pressure on his chances for re-election in a few months, as his management is currently battling with accusations of negligence and mismanagement of civilian infrastructure, such as the railway network.
A station master was arrested and charged after admitting that he forgot to reroute one of the trains involved in the accident, however, the Greek government has been accused of trying to diverge the blame from itself onto the worker after failing to implement safety measures to prevent such a catastrophe.
Mitsotakis and the country's transport minister - who resigned following the accident - have apologized on March 1 to the families of the victims and vowed to investigate the accident thoroughly until all those responsible are brought to justice.
Despite the Prime Minister's attempts to ease public outrage through increased appearances, including his televised address from the accident site in which he blamed the accident on a "human error", many citizens have considered that his apology is late.
Pantelis Boukalas, a columnist in Kathimerini, called Mitsotakis's apology "belated", adding that it can be suspected that it was "guided by PR gurus."
It is currently a notion that elections scheduled to take place in April may be pushed back to May, as the Prime Minister and other running candidates have put their election campaigns on halt following the accident.
When asked on Monday when the PM will set an election date, government spokesperson Yiannis Economou said, "At this stage, this issue is not on the prime minister's mind at all."
'Finally' - 'if only'
Greek media reported last week that EU investigators were looking into a contract that, if carried through, would have placed an electronic control system on the Greek railways, perhaps preventing the train catastrophe.
The railway's signaling and remote control system update was agreed upon in 2014, but a string of thefts and vandalism stopped the contract's implementation dead in its tracks, the local media added.
The head of the EU's rail agency and the European Commission's director for land transport visited Greece last week and held talks with government officials.
The Prime Minister pledged that he will seek the EU's support to "finally" modernize the railway network.
Acting Minister of Transport Giorgos Gerapetritis said the train routes may be resumed by the end of the month of March.
He also admitted that if only then safety systems were fully automated, the human error would have been prevented, and "the accident would not have happened."