More Pressure PMitsotakis Over Train Deaths, Safety Failures

ATHENS – Apologizing, canceling elections, and revamping in the aftermath of a head-on train collision that killed 57, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government also saw the biggest demonstrations since the country’s economic and austerity crisis from 201-18.

There were protests in the streets in the Greek capital and second-largest city Thessaloniki, where a passenger train carrying 350 people – many of them university students – was headed.

The anger spilled over around the country with demonstrations in some 75 cities and towns, said POLITICO, adding to the pressure on Mitsotakis whose popularity was already slipping during an ongoing surveillance scandal.


The accident happened a few days before he was to set the date of elections, seen as soon as April 9, but no word now on when they will be although polls must be held by mid-July, marking four years since he took power.

Mitsotakis, who first said the tragedy was largely due to “human error” with a stationmaster admitting a mistake in having two trains on the same track arrested.

He backtracked in the face of growing fury, apologized to the families and said there would be an investigation into why safety systems, subsidized by the European Union, weren’t fully implemented.

In Athens, more than 60,000 people marched, chanting “murderers” and anti-government slogans and signs reading, “Call me when you arrive,” a phrase parents tell their children before they leave for a trip.

Some cafes and stores closed in sympathy and posted signs that read, “We are all on the train today” and while it was a largely peaceful protest some demonstrators clashed with police, who fired tear gas at them.

A stationmaster who admitted making an error in having the trains on the same track was arrested but said automated systems weren’t working and communication is sometimes done with walkie-talkies and lines switched manually.

Rail workers unions warned of safety failures but said they were ignored and Mitsotakis has promised that an investigation would hold everyone accountable although noting years of rail line decay under previous governments.


“This is more than a train collision and a tragic railway accident. A whole generation gets the sense that the country has derailed,” said Nasos Iliopoulos, a spokesperson for main opposition SYRIZA.

New Transport Minister, Georgios Gerapetritis, said there were mistakes that led to the crash which he called an “unprecedented national tragedy, which has scarred us all,” but that from now on that no train would operate unsafely.

He said that the government would step up the implementation of a contract for automatic operations and signaling on the railway and a series of measures to improve safety without explaining why that wasn’t done in the four years the government has been in power.

All that came as a European Parliament delegation visited the country and warned that Greece faces “very serious threats to the rule of law and fundamental rights,” coming mainly to probe media freedom.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE), which completed its mission in Athens, cited poor media reporting, threats against journalists, migration policies, slow and ineffective justice as well as police violence, the news site also said.

“Checks and balances, essential for a robust democracy, are under heavy pressure,” the head of the delegation, Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld said.

“Media ownership by a small number of oligarchs negatively impacts media pluralism, resulting in dramatic under-reporting on certain topics. In the aftermath of the train accident, a common statement by Greek journalist associations also highlighted this problem,” she said.

Earlier, the association of Greek daily newspapers journalist union admitted it had not covered the problems of railway safety and apologized, Greece’s media largely aligned with political leanings and not independent.

Government officials refused to meet the EU lawmakers, citing mourning for the victims of the train crash, while the European People’s Party, which is affiliated with Greece’s New Democracy, pulled out


ATHENS - Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on the voters to send a message of stability in the European Parliament elections on June 9, noting that the country has a stable four-year government and that political instability is "the last thing it needs".

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