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Thousands rally in new Greece protests over train crash

Thousands of people have gathered in central Athens to protest Greece’s deadliest train disaster, which killed dozens last month.

The demonstrators expressed anger at safety shortcomings in Greece’s rail network and demanded punishment for those responsible for the head-on collision between a passenger train and a freight train that killed 57 people on 28 February. Police said more than 8,000 people in Athens gathered outside. Parliament will protest on Sunday.

Protesters poured into Syntagma Square in Athens waving banners reading “We will not forget, we will not forgive” and “We will become the voice of all the dead”.

“It was rage and fury that brought me here,” Markella, a 65-year-old protester from Athens who gave only one name, told AFP news agency.

Another protester, 26-year-old Alexandros, added: “We are getting desperate. You don’t know what to say, what to do – all you can do is join the protest.”

The protesters later marched to the offices of the privatized train operator Hellenic Train. The company, which has been owned by the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane since 2017, is not responsible for maintaining the rail network. State-owned Hellenic Railways is responsible for maintenance.

John Psaropoulos of Al Jazeera said from Athens that “the message on the street today … was one of skepticism and confrontation with the government”.

The authorities have closed four metro stations on two lines that run through the center of Athens because of the protest.

Protesters hold banners in Athens, Greece that read, “They were students. The car sank with the blood of students’ (Louiza Vradi/Reuters)

The meeting was organized by civil servants, a pro-communist trade union and university students.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, about 5,000 people demonstrated.

Sunday’s rallies, which were without serious incident, were not as well attended as similar events earlier in the week, when more than 30,000 attended in Athens and more than 20,000 in Thessaloniki.

A memorial service was held for 12 students from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece’s largest university, who died in the train accident.

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

Public and private sector workers are expected to walk out again on Thursday.

‘Crazy’ reactions

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.

Mitsotakis, who is vying for re-election later this year, has faced calls from some protesters to quit.

He has come under fire for initially pointing out “human error” for the accident and blaming the stationmaster on duty at the time, who allegedly misdirected the trains onto the same stretch of track.

But railway unions have been warning for some time about problems on the creaking, understaffed train network.

Al Jazeera’s Psaropoulos said the government “has always done everything it can to appease public opinion.

“Just two days ago, the government announced it would pay national pensions equivalent to about $1,800 per family for each of those 57 deaths,” he said.

“The government is trying to reassure people that by the end of the month, when the railways start operating again – at least that is the government’s plan – every precaution will be taken to ensure that full staff and properly trained personnel are on platforms and on trains. to have.

“By the end of the summer, the Prime Minister has promised that he will have all those automated safety systems that were down on the night of February 28 installed all over the system – automatic signaling, automatic braking and telemetry that shows controllers where trains are and go at all times.”

Elections in Greece are scheduled for later this spring, and opinion polls released over the past week have shown that the lead of the ruling Conservatives over the left-wing opposition has nearly halved compared to polls published before the crash.