Police and demonstrators clash in Athens as anger over train disaster mountsComments
Police and demonstrators clashed on Sunday in front of the Greek parliament in Athens during a protest rally following Tuesday's train disaster that killed 57 people on Tuesday night.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital as public anger over the deadliest rail crash in the country's history shows no sign of abating.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades when violent clashes between police and demonstrators broke out.
The crowds gathered after calls by rail workers and public sector employees to express their grief and anger.
Days of rallies have taken place across the country since the crash, with the public blaming the government for poor safety standards on the transport network.
The government, however, says it was due to human error, and the stationmaster from Larissa, near where the crash took place, faces multiple charges of negligent homicide and bodily harm, as well as disrupting transportation.
He is set to appear before a prosecutor and an examining magistrate Sunday after his deposition was postponed a day earlier.
The 59-year-old is accused of placing two trains running in opposite directions on the same track, resulting in a passenger train slamming into a freight carrier late Tuesday at Tempe, 380 kilometres north of Athens.
Stephanos Pantzartzidis, the stationmaster’s lawyer, told reporters waiting outside the courthouse Saturday in the central Greek city of Larissa that “very important new evidence emerged that force us to request a postponement” in his client's deposition.
The lawyer didn't elaborate. Per Greek law, authorities have not released the accused’s name.
On Saturday, one of the three members of an expert panel named by the government to investigate and issue a report on the collision resigned after opposition parties and some media outlets panned his appointment.
Thanasis Ziliaskopoulos served as chairman and CEO of the country’s train operator from 2010 to 2015 and is currently the chairman of the Greek agency in charge of privatizing state-owned assets.
Many of the people killed were in their teens and 20s
Funerals for some of the people killed in the crash, many of them in their teens and 20s, took place in northern Greece. The force of the crash and the resulting fire complicated the task of identifying the victims, which is being done through next-of-kin DNA testing.
Some families have yet to receive the remains of their loved ones. Police said 54 victims have been positively identified.
Rallies protesting the conditions that led to the tragedy continued Saturday. A peaceful rally in central Athens organized by the Communist Party’s youth wing drew over a thousand people.
A rally organized by a rail workers' union is scheduled for Sunday morning, also in Athens. The union, which is organizing rolling labour strikes, has asked members of the public to take part.
Greek media have published damning accounts of mismanagement and infrastructure neglect in Greece’s railways.
A former head of the railway employees’ union, Panayotis Paraskevopoulos, told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that the signalling system in the area where the accident occurred malfunctioned six years ago and was never repaired.
Stationmasters and train drivers communicate via two-way radio and track switches are operated manually over parts of the main rail line from the capital Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki.
The stationmaster, who formerly worked as a porter at the state-owned Hellenic Railways, or OSE, was transferred to a desk job at the Ministry of Education in 2011 when Greece’s creditors demanded personnel cuts in railways.
He transferred back to the company in June 2022 and was appointed stationmaster in Larissa, an important railway hub, in January, after five months of training.
Police early Friday searched a rail coordination office in Larissa, removing evidence as part of an ongoing investigation.
The since privatized train and freight operator, renamed Hellenic Train, is now owned by Italy’s Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane.