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Sunday June 23, 2024

Greece train crash: Three more officials charged

Public anger continues to grow in Greece after train crash on February 28 with protests taking places throughout country

By AFP
March 10, 2023
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a joint news conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, November 11, 2020. (AFP)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a joint news conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, November 11, 2020. (AFP)

ATHENS: Greek prosecutors on Thursday charged three more railway officials in connection with the country’s worst train crash, as the prime minister vowed "absolute transparency" in the probe into the tragedy.

Nine days after the disaster, which claimed the lives of 57 people, distraught mourners gathered for a religious ceremony near the site of the accident.

Public anger has soared since the February 28 head-on collision in central Greece. Tens of thousands demonstrating nationwide on Wednesday, and there were more protests on Thursday.

The stationmaster on duty at the time of the accident, who allegedly directed both trains onto the same track by mistake, was charged several days ago.

On Thursday, a rail supervisor responsible for staff rotas -- accused of having put the inexperienced stationmaster on night duty during a busy holiday period -- was charged by a prosecutor in the central city of Larissa, a judicial source told AFP.

Also charged were two other stationmasters, who reportedly left work early. All three face counts of negligent manslaughter, causing bodily harm and transport disruption, and could face life in prison if convicted.

‘Crying from morning to night’

With anger growing at long-running mismanagement of the rail network, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis opened his first cabinet meeting since the crash by vowing "absolute transparency in the investigation to uncover errors".

The conservative leader, who is expected to run for re-election in the coming months, also promised "immediate actions to improve the problematic situation in the railways".

He would "move heaven and Earth", he said, to ensure improvements to safety systems were completed.

"We are all responsible for this, we must be brave enough to admit it," said Mitsotakis in televised remarks.

Victims’ relatives and other mourners attended a religious ceremony at the crash site in Tempe, laying pictures of those killed and candles among rocks by the track.

The mother of a 34-year-old victim collapsed as she left a bouquet of flowers and a picture of her daughter, shouting: "I’ve lost my child, why?"

"Our soul is bleeding," said Maria Giannouli, a 75-year-old mourner from a nearby village. "We are crying from morning to night."

Mass protests

On Wednesday, huge crowds took to the streets in the biggest protests yet since the crash, calling for justice for the victims and for the government to resign.

They waved banners that read "It’s not an accident, it’s a crime" and "It could have been any of us on that train" as clashes erupted in Athens and Greece’s second city Thessaloniki.

Greek civil servants staged a 24-hour walkout while doctors, teachers and transport workers also went on strike on Wednesday.

Protests continued Thursday, with hundreds of university students gathering in the capital and Thessaloniki.

The government’s initial move to blame the stationmaster stoked public anger, some seeing it as a bid to deflect attention from chronic underfunding and mismanagement of the railways.

In his remarks Thursday, the prime minister said he felt "rage and shame" after hearing recordings of worried calls by train officials to the stationmaster moments after the accident.

In the calls, played by Greek TV channels, the stationmaster repeatedly insists the two trains are on separate tracks.

But Mitsotakis also apologised again and said that "we... must not hide behind a series of human errors".

Greece’s transport minister resigned following the crash, and the premier has been scrambling to limit the political fallout and soothe public anger.

There is now speculation that upcoming elections, initially expected in April, could be delayed until May.

Polls suggest the New Democracy governing party still ahead of Syriza, the main opposition party.

But the gap has narrowed following the train crash, according to a survey by the Marc institute published late Thursday.