Sunday, July 21, 2024

Train disaster in Greece: Anger turns violent, station master in custody

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A station master involved in a fatal error that led to a train derailment that killed at least 57 people in Greece on Tuesday was taken into custody on Sunday. In Larissa, the city closest to the crash site, he was charged with “mass death”. Greek Penal Code.

Vassilis Samaras, 59, is responsible for the head-on collision between Athens and Thessaloniki in the north of the country, carrying 342 passengers and ten railway workers. of goods. The two trains collided head-on when they were traveling several kilometers on the same track.

“We feel great anger! »

But demonstrators in Athens on Sunday demanded responsibility for the dilapidated state of railway equipment, which is seen as leaving the fate of passengers in the hands of an inexperienced station master. “Abolish murderous governments! », « This is not human error! “We read about 12,000 people brandishing placards in Syntagma Square, the Greek capital’s grand esplanade in front of the parliament. Protesters released hundreds of black balloons to pay tribute to the dead.

About 12,000 people took to Syntagma Square in front of the Greek capital’s parliament to express their anger. AFP/Louisa Gouliamaki. AFP or licensees

The tragedy raised a great deal of anger over the negligence and shortcomings of the railways. After the crash, the fourth Athenian rally disintegrated into violent incidents. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and police responded with tear gas and stun grenades, AFP journalists found.

“We feel great anger! “, Michalis Hasiotis, president of the Association of Chartered Accountants, summed up the march. Greed, lack of action to protect passengers led to the worst railway tragedy in our country.

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“Nothing is going right in this country, hospitals are dying, schools are closing, forests are burning … who are they kidding? added Nikos Sikalakis, head of a railway union. Most of the victims are young people and students returning to the big university city of Thessaloniki after a long weekend.

On television, heartbreaking images of parents in tears, waiting anxiously in front of hospitals for information on the fate of their children, helped to cast shame on the authorities and their administration, who assumed the devastation of the disaster.

The Prime Minister apologizes

On Sunday morning, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis apologized to the families of the victims in a solemn speech before a religious ceremony at an Orthodox cathedral in Athens. “As Prime Minister, I owe it to everyone, but especially the relatives of the victims, to (ask for) an apology,” he wrote.

“In 2023 Greece, it’s impossible for two trains to run in opposite directions on the same track and no one will notice.” “We cannot, will not and must not hide behind human error,” he insisted the station master was told.

The station master’s inexperience has been condemned since the very day after the tragedy actually took place. According to Greek media, he only received a short training session before finding himself alone as station master, while traffic on the line was heavy due to the long weekend. The test was conducted at Larissa station. According to a judicial source, the investigation also aims to “initiate criminal proceedings, if necessary,” against members of Hellenic Rail’s management of Greek Railways.

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“Murderers” written in red on Hellenic train facade

The burial of the victims continued with great emotion on Sunday. At the small Rapsani station, near the crash site in the center of the country, students’ parents laid red and white carnations and lit candles on the tracks.

Anger is primarily directed at the Hellenic train. The word “assassins” was painted in red letters on a window at the headquarters in Athens on Friday. The company has been blamed for a number of negligence and lapses that led to the disaster, described as a “national tragedy” by officials.

He defended himself on Saturday evening, saying he was “in the first moments on the scene” and had “set up a call center (…) to provide information. Italian public group Ferrovie Dello was part of a privatization plan requested by Greece’s creditors during the economic crisis (2009-2018). Stato Italiane (FS) bought Hellenic Rail in 2017. Railway union representatives warned three weeks in advance about the risk of accidents.

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