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Greek Rail Disaster Sparks Mass Protests

[AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris]

Hundreds of thousands of people expressed their anger in strikes and protests across Greece on Wednesday, March 8, following the deaths of 57 people in the February 28 Tempi train crash.


At least 80 towns and cities came out in a public sector general strike throughout Greece’s mainland and islands, constituting the largest protests against the conservative New Democracy government since it came to power in 2019. 


Hundreds of thousands protested in the largest cities: with over 60,000 demonstrating in Athens and 30,000 in Thessaloniki, with similar numbers in Patras, Piraeus and Larissa. 


In the Tempi valley near Larissa on February 28, a Thessaloniki-bound InterCity 62 passenger train collided head-on with a southbound freight train in the deadliest rail disaster in Greece's history. Rail workers walked out nationwide the next day in a strike that lasted the whole week through to Wednesday’s general strike, called by the Greek Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY), the largest public sector body. 


Ships remained docked at ports, schools and universities closed as The Greek Primary Teachers’ Federation struck, and at least 26 schools and university departments were occupied. Young people comprised most of the crash victims, with 12 of the victim's students at the University of Thessaloniki.


Metro services ran for several hours on Wednesday before shutting down to allow protestors to travel into Athens. Despite police shutting down the main central city stations, a flood of protestors marched through Syntagma, Omonia and Klafthmonos squares and on through the city.


The Greek public has primarily rejected the Mitsotakis government’s attempt to impose responsibility for the crash on the “human error” of a station master at Larissa. Deeper issues lie at the heart of the accident, the SYRIZA government’s destaffing and privatisation of the rail network. 


As a result of brutal IMF austerity measures, large swathes of Greece’s infrastructure, including the state-run TrainOSE network, were privatised and sold off to global conglomerates for huge profits. Still, little to none of these profits returned to improving the rail system. As a result, no automated computer system was in place on Greek railways that could have prevented the crash.


Home-made banners expressed the outpouring of public anger with placards bearing the words, “State negligence kills”, “Our lives matter, there must be no cover-up”, and “We will become the voice of the dead, the new generation does not forgive you”. 


 The protestors were met with force by squads of riot police, who brought tear gas, stun grenades and batons to bear.

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