Greeks walk off the job to protest over deadly train crash

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By Renee Maltezou and Alkis Konstantinidis

ATHENS, March 16 (Reuters) – Flights to and from Greece were grounded and ships remained docked at ports on Thursday, as Greek workers walked off the job to protest over the country’s deadliest train crash on record which killed 57 people on Feb. 28.

The walkout, called by Greece’s largest private and public sector unions, is the latest in a series of protests since the head-on collision of a passenger train with more than 350 people on board, most of them university students, with a freight train in the central Greek region of Tempi.

Public services and state schools were closed during the 24-hour strike on Thursday and urban transport was disrupted as taxi drivers and metro staff joined the action. Rail workers have staged rolling strikes since the crash.

Protesters, accusing the conservative government and the country’s political system of turning a blind eye to repeated calls by unions over deficient safety measures in the railway, demonstrated in central Athens.

“We want to jointly express our disappointment for what has not happened over the years, but above all the anger for what happened in Tempi,” private sector union GSEE said, demanding a thorough probe into the causes of the crash.

“We will not allow a lack of transparency, a cover-up, a renounce of responsibilities and any delays to lead to oblivion,” it said.

A judicial probe into the accident has been launched.

All flights were halted between 12:01 a.m. and midnight local time (1001 GMT – 2200 GMT) and only overflights, emergency and search-and-rescue flights will be allowed.

The crash has stirred public outrage. Last week, tens of thousands rallied in Athens and other cities across Greece in the largest street demonstrations the government has faced since being elected in 2019.

“The culprits must pay regardless of their rank,” read a poster by public sector union ADEDY.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose term ends in July and is expected to call elections by May, has apologised over the crash and has promised to hire more staff and fix the ailing rail sector with support from the European Union. He has also called on protesters to not allow anger to split society.

“We must win this war,” Mitsotakis said this week, adding that he was determined to eliminate the factors that led to the disaster.

An elder man reacts in front of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the deadly train crash in central-Greece, at the closed entrance to Athens’s central railway station during a 24-hour general strike in Athens, Greece, 16 March 2023. Greece’s private and public sector unions called for a 24-hour nationwide strike demanding that liabilities be assigned to those responsible for the fatal Tempi train collision on February 28. EPA-EFE/KOSTAS TSIRONIS

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