Thousands protest Greece’s deadly train crash as rail workers strike

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Thousands of striking transport workers, students and teachers started rallying in central Athens and in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Wednesday to protest over Greece’s deadliest train disaster on record.

The crash on February 28 killed 57 people and has stirred public outrage over the crumbling state of the rail network. Striking workers say years of neglect, underinvestment and understaffing - a legacy of Greece’s decade-long debt crisis - are to blame.

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The conservative government, whose term expires in July, promised on Wednesday to fix the ailing railway system.

Many of the around 350 people aboard an intercity passenger train that collided head-on with a freight train while traveling on the same track were university students heading to the northern city of Thessaloniki from Athens after a long public holiday weekend.

“We won’t stay alive by chance, we will live as we wish,” said a banner held by young protesters outside parliament in Athens, where rallies were expected to culminate. “Murderers,” read another one.

The disaster has led to protests across Greece with more than 10,000 people rallying in Athens on Sunday. Tens of thousands were gathering in Athens and Thessaloniki on Wednesday.

Rail workers have staged rolling, 24-hour strikes since Thursday, bringing the network to a halt. They say their demands for improvement in safety protocols have gone unheard for years and have promised to “impose safety” to ensure that a crash will not be repeated.

“We have an obligation towards our fellow humans and our colleagues who were lost in the tragic accident,” the main railway workers union said in a statement.

The conservative government, which was initially planning to call elections in the coming weeks, has blamed the crash mainly on human error and deficiencies it says have not been fixed over the past decades.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has handed the portfolio to one of his closest aides, state minister George Gerapetritis, after the former transport minister resigned.

On Wednesday, Gerapetritis said rail passenger services, suspended since the crash, may resume by the end of March if absolute safety is secured. He promised funds would be invested in upgrading infrastructure and hiring staff.

He also promised to shed light to the causes of the crash.

“I understand the anger that people feel,” he said.

Greece’s largest public sector union ADEDY participated in the 24-hour walkout. City transport workers walked off the job in solidarity, disrupting metro, tram and bus services in the capital. Ships also remained docked at ports as seamen participated in the labor action.

Students and teacher groups have said they will take part in the rallies in central Athens.

“It’s not the time to fall silent, it’s time to speak up and fight,” a teachers’ union said in a statement.

Greece sold its state-owned railway operator, now called Hellenic Train, to Italy’s state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane in 2017 during its debt crisis. The sale was a term in the country’s bailout agreements with the European Union and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

Gerapetritis would meet transport experts from the European Commission, which has promised technical support, later on Wednesday.

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