- At least 57 people have been killed in Greece’s worst train disaster
- Government promises to fix the faltering railway system
- Railway workers quit their jobs in protest against safety standards
KATERINI, Greece (Reuters) – Clad in black, families and friends clung to each other in tears as the coffin of a 34-year-old mother who died in Greece’s worst train accident was lifted. Church on Friday.
The first known funeral after Tuesday night’s crash, which killed at least 57 people, took place in the northern town of Katerini, where police said 52 bodies have been identified so far – almost all from DNA tests as the crash was so violent.
Carriages have been thrown off the tracks, some of them crushed and engulfed in flames, when a passenger train and a freight train collide on the same track at high speed, in central Greece.
More than 350 people were on board the passenger train, many of them university students returning to the northern city of Thessaloniki from the capital, Athens, after a long weekend.
And 38 passengers remain hospitalized on Friday, seven of whom are in intensive care.
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Anger has mounted across the country over the crash, which the government blamed on human error but unions say was inevitable due to lack of maintenance and faulty signals.
“They killed him, that’s what happened. They are killers, all of them,” Panos Rotsi said earlier on Friday as he and his wife anxiously awaited confirmation of what happened to their 22-year-old son, Denis.
Shortly before the accident, his son told him he was going to be late and would call. “I’m still waiting,” said Rotsi, standing in front of the hospital in Larisa, close to the crash site where many of the victims were taken.
Dennis traveled to Athens to see friends and came home on the train, which never reached its destination. His mother, Mirella, showed reporters a photo on her mobile phone of her beaming son.
After evening protests over the past two days, some 2,000 students took to the streets in Athens on Friday, blocking the way in front of Parliament for a minute’s silence. Students also demonstrated in Larissa, the central city near the incident.
One banner, signed by a university student organization, read, “Their profits are our dead.”
Another sign read: “It wasn’t an accident, it was murder.”
The railway workers extended their strike for a second day on Friday, and more rallies were planned, with many demanding how such a tragedy could have happened.
In the schoolyards of Athens, students used their briefcases to write “Call me when you get there,” a phrase that has become one of the protest slogans.
The 59-year-old Larisa station manager was arrested and admitted some responsibility, his lawyer said, stressing that he was not the only one responsible.
“The federation has been ringing alarm bells for many years, but this has not been taken seriously,” said the main railway workers’ union, and demanded a meeting with the new Minister of Transport, appointed after the accident with a mandate to ensure such a tragedy occurred. It won’t happen again.
The union said it wanted a clear timeline for implementing the safety protocols.
Work continued at the crash site, with rescue crews using cranes to lift some of the wagons that had been thrown off the tracks.
Opposition politicians have also begun to voice criticism.
“Any effort to hide and cover up the truth about the Tempe tragedy is to disrespect the dead and predict new tragedies,” said Popi Tsapanedo, a spokesman for Greece’s main opposition party, Syriza.
Before the collapse, the government said elections would be held in the spring, with the media citing April 9 as the most likely date. Political analysts say that plan may now be shelved.
Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Larissa, Alexandros Avramidis in Katerini, Karolina Tagaris, René Maltizo, Michel Kambas and Alkis Konstandinidis; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Christina Fincher
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