May 27. 2024. 8:15

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Greek PM vows to fix railways as protests continue over crash that killed 57

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologised on Thursday for a train crash that killed 57 people, promising to fix long-standing deficiencies in the railway sector and support victims’ families as anti-government protests continued.

A passenger train with 350 people on board, most of them university students, collided with a cargo train near the city of Larissa in central Greece on February 28th in the country’s deadliest rail disaster.

“I want to reiterate a public apology on behalf of those who ruled the country over the years, and mainly personally,” Mr Mitsotakis said during a cabinet meeting. “I assume responsibility.”

The crash has stirred public outrage and protests against the conservative government and a political system that has repeatedly ignored calls by railway unions to install and maintain digital safety systems and hire more staff.

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Rail workers, on strike since March 2nd, have extended their walkout until Friday. On Thursday, hundreds of university students marched through the streets of Athens.

“We could have been there, we could have been on that same train,” said Aria Laska (23). “We can’t just stand and let this pass by as if nothing happened.”

On Wednesday, tens of thousands rallied in Athens and other cities across Greece in the largest street demonstrations the government has faced since being elected in 2019.

The government had been planning to call elections in the coming weeks as its term ends in July. It has acknowledged deficiencies due to underinvestment and neglect – a legacy of Greece’s debt crisis – but it has blamed the crash mainly on human error.

The station master on duty at the time of the crash has been jailed pending trial. Three more railway workers were detained and accused of disrupting public transport leading to deaths, the semi-state Athens News Agency reported.

Greece’s state-owned Hellenic Railways Organisation is responsible for managing and maintaining rail infrastructure. Italy’s Hellenic Train oversees passenger and freight services.

As the cabinet meeting started on Thursday, Mr Mitsotakis outlined his government’s priorities, which include a transparent investigation into the causes of the crash and compensating the families of victims.

He said that more than €270 million would be invested in railway reform and pledged to hire more staff and improve safety by installing digital control systems along the railway network by the end of August.

Mr Mitsotakis said that modernising Greece was “a tough and arduous task” and he was determined to go forward with it.

“We are together in this trial,” Mr Mitsotakis said, adding that young people and their parents had “every right to be angry”. But the leader also called on protesters to not allow anger to split society.

“It is important to give room to sorrow and anger. But we should not allow it to become a spark that will cause divisions.” – Reuters