Over 40,000 people took to the streets in Greece to protest against the government and express their outrage at a train disaster that occurred last month, killing 57 people. The protests were accompanied by a 24-hour strike, which was the largest yet since the disaster. Clashes broke out in Syntagma Square in Athens, with police using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators who were throwing rocks and firebombs. As the protesters retreated, they vandalized traffic lights, and shop windows, and set rubbish bins on fire. Ten people were detained for questioning. The train crash revealed longstanding safety issues in Greek railways and has put pressure on the conservative government before national elections. The industrial walkout shut down the civil service, flights, and ferries.
Many of the protesters called for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government to resign over the country's deadliest rail accident. Demonstrators from the communist union PAME chanted "This crime will not be forgotten" as the crowd marched towards parliament and the offices of rail services company Hellenic Train in Athens. Students shouted "murderers," and marchers threw flyers of Mitsotakis wearing a stationmaster's cap, captioned "it's everyone's fault but mine." The rail disaster occurred when a passenger train crashed head-on into a freight train in central Greece after both were mistakenly left running on the same track. Most of the passengers were students returning from a holiday weekend.
Stavroula Hatzitheodorou, a protester from Athens, said that "things have to change in this country, we simply cannot mourn all these deaths." Last week, around 65,000 people took part in demonstrations around the country, including around 40,000 in Athens. Several victims of the train accident remain in hospital, including one passenger who is fighting for his life.
The Italian state-owned company operating rail services in Greece, Hellenic Train, said those hurt in the accident and the families of the dead would receive compensation between 5,000 and 42,000 euros ($44,600) "to cover immediate needs." The father of one passenger who died rejected the offer, saying that "we don't want their money... this was mass murder, I refuse to accept an apology from murderers." Greece's transport minister resigned after the crash, and Mitsotakis has repeatedly apologized and promised a transparent probe.
With public anger mounting before elections expected in May, Mitsotakis has seen his lead in the polls shrink. He has come under fire for blaming "human error" for the accident, and railway unions had long been warning about problems on the underfunded and understaffed train network.