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Politics

Mitsotakis Wasn’t Told Greek Railways Safety Lapses Before Tragedy

ATHENS – The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was never informed that the country’s railways posed a danger to riders or that safety measures were not being implemented before a head-on collision killed 57 people.

During a TV interview, a spokesperson for the New Democracy government, Giannis Oikonomou, stated that the Premier had not been made aware of how disorganized the railway system was. However, there was no indication of when the former Transport Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, had failed to do so.

Despite this, Karamanlis, who resigned almost immediately after the tragedy, is still on the list of candidates for Parliament in the upcoming spring elections, although Mitsotakis has promised reforms.

It was not explained why a minister failed to inform the Prime Minister of problems during the previous 3.5 years, or why it did not arise in Cabinet meetings or a separate briefing.

Karamanlis is scheduled to appear before the Parliament’s Institutions and Transparency Committee on March 20 to testify about the accident and the condition of the Greek railways, amid media reports of years of neglect.

This was in response to a request by the major opposition and former ruling party SYRIZA, which also asked for testimony from Deputy Transport Ministers Michalis Papadopoulos and Giorgos Karagiannis, as well as former minister Kostis Hatzidakis, regarding a contract for a safety control system that was not implemented.

In response to the rage in the streets over the disaster and concerns that voters may seek to punish political parties, Mitsotakis reportedly stated that railway safety would become a priority for him, especially with the tourism season about to begin.

Starting March 22, Greek trains will resume operations gradually, beginning with the suburban railroad lines between Piraeus, Athens, and the International Airport, freight trains between Athens and Thessaloniki, and specific local lines in Greece.

The announcement was made by the new Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Giorgos Gerapetritis, who replaced Karamanlis. Gerapetritis stated that the Athens-Thessaloniki line, where the collision occurred on February 28 that cost the lives of 57 people, will resume operating on April 1.

The Prime Minister’s popularity has dropped by more than half since leading in surveys by up to 14% in 2022 before a surveillance scandal involving the major opposition SYRIZA leader and former premier, Alexis Tsipras, led to criticism.

In that case as well, Mitsotakis stated that he was never informed that the National Intelligence Service (EYP) had wiretapped the phones of 15,475 people, including PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis, even though the agency was placed under the Prime Minister’s direct control when he took office in July 2019.

Following the tragedy, New Democracy’s leader’s support has decreased to 3.9% in the latest poll, with support for SYRIZA and PASOK also falling as voters expressed anger over the catastrophe and blamed mainstream parties.

According to media reports, the ruling government in Greece is already working on a campaign strategy to shift blame for the train tragedy onto former governments, including SYRIZA.

The leftists were calling for an election date to be set. April 9 was a probable date for the upcoming elections, but the train disaster has postponed it to May 14 or May 21, which must be held by mid-July in any case.

In 2019, during SYRIZA’s last days in office, a change in electoral law was pushed through the Parliament, eliminating a 50-seat bonus in the 300-member Parliament for the election winner, making it unlikely for a single-party government to form.

This is widely viewed as making it almost certain that a second round of elections will be required, unless an unusual coalition of traditional rivals emerges. However, there is precedent for New Democracy previously having PASOK as a partner and SYRIZA having the far-right Independent Greeks in that government.

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