(Athens) Violent clashes pitted police and demonstrators in Athens on Sunday on the sidelines of a demonstration after the train disaster that sparked outrage across the country despite the Prime Minister’s mea culpa.
In Larissa, the city closest to the scene of this accident, the station master implicated for having made a fatal error, was heard by the courts on Sunday with a view to his possible indictment for “manslaughter by negligence”.
The 59-year-old man, whose identity, Vassilis Samaras, was revealed by the Ministry of Transport, admitted his responsibility in the frontal collision between two trains which left 57 dead.
At the time of his hearing before an investigating judge, some 12,000 people shouted their anger on Syntagma Square, the large esplanade in front of the Parliament of the Greek capital, brandishing signs and banners: “Down with the murderous governments! », « It was not a human error! “.
Protesters released hundreds of black balloons to pay tribute to the 57 dead in the collision of a train from Athens to Thessaloniki in the north and a goods convoy.
This drama aroused immense anger at the negligence and shortcomings in the railways. And the Athenian rally, the fourth since the accident, degenerated into violent incidents.
Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and police responded with tear gas and stun grenades, AFP journalists found.
“We feel immense rage! “, summarized in the procession Michalis Hasiotis, president of the union of chartered accountants. “The greed, the lack of measures taken for the protection of passengers has led to the worst railway tragedy in our country”.
“Nothing is going well in this country, the hospitals are dying, the schools are closing, the forests are burning… Who are they kidding? added Nikos Tsikalakis, president of a railway union.
Most of the victims were young people and students returning to Thessaloniki, the major university city, after a long weekend.
On television, heartbreaking images of parents in tears, desperately waiting in front of a hospital for information on the fate of their children, also contributed to casting opprobrium on the authorities and their management, deemed calamitous, of this disaster.
On Sunday morning, before a religious ceremony at the Orthodox cathedral in Athens, Conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked the families of the victims for forgiveness in a rare solemn address.
“As Prime Minister, I owe everyone, but especially the relatives of the victims, [de demander] sorry,” he wrote. “In the Greece of 2023, it is not possible for two trains to run in opposite directions on the same line and for no one to notice.”
We can’t, won’t and shouldn’t hide behind human error [imputée au chef de gare].
Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greek Prime Minister
The lack of experience of the station master has indeed been denounced since the day after the tragedy. According to Greek media, he had received only a short training before finding himself alone as station master, while traffic on this line was intense due to a long weekend.
According to a judicial source, the investigation also aims “to initiate criminal proceedings, if necessary, against members of the management of the company” Hellenic Train, the Greek railways.
It is the third deadliest train crash in Europe in the past 25 years, after the 1991 train derailment in Germany that killed 101, and the 2013 train crash in Spain in which 80 people were killed .
The burials of victims also continued this Sunday in immense emotion.
At the small Rapsani station, near the scene of the accident in the center of the country, parents of students placed red and white carnations and lit candles on the tracks.
The anger is primarily directed at Hellenic Train. The word “Assassins” was painted in red letters on the glass of the headquarters in Athens on Friday.
The company is implicated for numerous negligence and shortcomings that led to this disaster, described as a “national tragedy” by the authorities.
She defended herself on Saturday evening, claiming to have “been present from the first moments on the scene” and set up “a call center […] to provide information.
Hellenic Train was bought in 2017 by the Italian public group Ferrovie Dello Stato Italiane (FS) as part of the privatization program demanded by Greece’s creditors during the economic crisis (2009-2018).
Railway union representatives had sounded the alarm three weeks ago, warning: “We are not going to wait for the accident to happen to see those responsible shed crocodile tears.”