- At least 57 killed in Greece’s worst train disaster
- The government promises to fix the ailing rail system
- Rail workers walk off the job in protest against safety standards
KATERINI, Greece, March 3 (Reuters) – Families and friends, dressed in black, clung to each other, in tears, as the coffin of a 34-year-old mother killed in Greece’s deadliest train crash was carried up the steps of a church on Friday.
The first known funeral after Tuesday night’s crash, which killed at least 57, took place in the northern town of Katerini, as police said 52 bodies had so far been identified – almost all from DNA tests because of the severity of the crash.
Wagons were thrown off the tracks, some of them crushed and engulfed in flames, when a passenger train and a freight train collided on the same track at high speed in central Greece.
There were more than 350 people on board the passenger train, many of them university students returning to the northern city of Thessaloniki from the capital Athens after a long holiday weekend.
On Friday, 38 passengers were still hospitalized, seven of them in intensive care.
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Anger has grown across the country over the crash, which the government has blamed on human error but which unions say was unavoidable due to a lack of maintenance and faulty signalling.
“They killed him, that’s what happened. They are murderers, all of them,” Panos Routsi said earlier Friday as he and his wife anxiously awaited confirmation of what had happened to their 22-year-old son Denis.
Not long before the crash, his son had told him he would be late and call. “I’m still waiting,” said Routsi, standing across from the hospital in Larissa, not far from the crash site, where many of the victims were brought.
Denis had traveled to Athens to see friends and was returning home on the train that never reached its destination. His mother, Mirela, showed reporters a cell phone photo of her beaming son.
After evening protests over the past two days, around 2,000 students took to the streets of Athens on Friday, blocking the road in front of parliament for a moment of silence. Students also demonstrated in Larissa, the central city near the crash.
“Your profit, our dead” read a banner, signed by a university student organisation.
Another poster read: “It wasn’t an accident, it was murder.”
Rail workers extended their strike to a second day on Friday, and more demonstrations were planned, as many demanded how such a tragedy could have happened.
In the schoolyards of Athens, students used their backpacks to write the words “Call me when you get there”, a phrase that has become one of the protest slogans.
Larissa’s 59-year-old station manager was arrested and has admitted some responsibility, his lawyer said, stressing that he was not the only one to blame.
“The union has been ringing alarm bells for so many years, but it has never been taken seriously,” said the main rail union, demanding a meeting with the new transport minister, appointed after the crash with a mandate to ensure such a tragedy. never happen again.
The union said it wanted a clear timetable for implementing safety protocols.
Work continued at the scene of the accident, where rescue personnel used cranes to lift some wagons thrown off the tracks.
Opposition politicians also began to voice criticism.
“Any attempt to hide and cover up the truth about the Tempi tragedy is to honor the dead and predict new tragedies,” said Popi Tsapanidou, a spokesman for the left-wing Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party.
Before the crash, the government had said elections would be held in the spring, with the media citing April 9 as the most likely date. Political analysts say the plan may now be pushed back.
Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas in Larissa, Alexandros Avramidis in Katerini, and Karolina Tagaris, Renee Maltezou, Michele Kambas, Alkis Konstandinidis; Written by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Christina Fincher
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