ATHENS – A true Greek tragedy that has made international news headlines – the loss of 57 people in a tragic and now controversial train accident – has thousands of demonstrators taking to the streets demanding answers.
The morning of March 1 brought nation-wide distress as a Thessaloniki-bound passenger train carrying some 350 people collided with a freight train in Tempe, Greece, just before midnight on Tuesday, February 28. While the train crash has been widely attributed to human error, its occurrence has been described as an accident “waiting to happen,” as long-standing technical problems were not properly addressed despite repeated requests, according to public statements made by train system personnel and related representatives.
Immediately following the incident, the Greek government declared three days of national mourning. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked for forgiveness from the families of the victims, stating in a Facebook post that “…as Prime Minister, I owe everyone, but above all the relatives of the victims, a great ‘I AM SORRY.’ Both personally and in the name of all those who have governed the country for years. Because, indeed, in the Greece of 2023, it is not possible for two trains to run on opposite sides of the same track without anyone noticing.”
Shocked by the scale of this disaster which saw the deaths of university students, numerous demonstrations have been held around the country for days. An outpouring of anger and frustration led to large demonstrations organized in the center of Athens on where participants denounce leadership’s failure in ensuring the safety of the country’s citizens.
Thousands show up to pay their respects to victims and their families, many holding black balloons representing their grief. According to several accounts, some gatherings have been met with pushback by police forces using tear gas and stun grenades, responding to isolated acts of aggression among an otherwise peaceful crowd, clearing Syntagma Square in a matter of minutes.
“I was in the silent protests in Syntagma Square just now to honor the dead of the train collision. We were silently there standing to pay our respects, and suddenly, police forces and other groups that protested not so peacefully started fighting with each other and then in a couple of seconds we saw tear gas and sounds like gunfire, but it wasn’t gunfire…I am really shocked,” said Fay Moutzouri, a 28-year-old who had attended the demonstration. Her eyes red from tear gas, she warned passersby to change course and keep away from the center from which crowds were departing to avoid further clashes.
“This is a usual thing in Greece, but not for me. I came to pay my respects because there were many young people that died and this was because of lack of the right safety measures. We came here to protest this and we can’t even do that now. I am really shocked because people started running, and someone might do something to you out of nowhere. Thousands of people are here. Outside of the parliament and the square, and all around were people from different groups, different political views…all together, but things got really ugly,” she said.