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Greek transit system thwarted by strikes, protests on deadly train wreck's anniversary

Labor strikes in Greece brought much of the Balkan nation's transit infrastructure to a halt Wednesday, a year after a train crash killed a record 57 people.

Widespread strikes in Greece halted trains, ferries and much of the capital's public transport on Wednesday in protests timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the country's deadliest rail crash, which killed 57 people.

The train disaster on the night of Feb. 28, 2023 shocked the country. Many of the victims were university students heading back to class after a public holiday when their passenger train slammed into an oncoming cargo train after the two were accidentally put onto the same track heading in opposite directions.

Wednesday’s strike disrupted public transport in the capital, Athens, and left ferries tied up in ports as unions pressed demands to further dismantle wage controls imposed during Greece's near decade-long financial crisis. Flights were unaffected after a court ruled that participation in the walk-out by air traffic controllers was illegal. Farmers and university students have also been staging anti-government protests in recent weeks.


At the scene of the rail crash in Tempi, central Greece, relatives of the victims gathered for a memorial service as churches across the country tolled their bells 57 times Wednesday morning to honor the dead.

"This is a pain that will never end, a wound that will never heal," said Panos Routsi, whose 22-year-old son, Denis, was killed.

He said he supported a petition that has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to strip parliamentary immunity from lawmakers responsible for rail safety when the collision occurred.

"What I want is for them all to be (punished), all those responsible wherever they are hiding, hiding behind immunity," he said.

Flowers and candles were placed at the rail crash site, along with a banner reading: "Unpunished crime in Tempi, the souls demand justice."

"I thought I was putting my children onto the safest form of transport and they were driven to their deaths," said Nikos Plakias, who lost his 19-year-old twin daughters and one niece in the crash. Those responsible "knew the problems and they said nothing."

In the capital, protesters gathered outside Parliament chanting "murderers, murderers," while thousands of demonstrators, some holding up flares and red helium-filled balloons, gathered outside the headquarters of the country's rail operator. Some spray-painted the slogan "Our Lives" in front of a riot police cordon backed with a water cannon truck.

The rallies halted traffic in much of the capital. Scuffles broke out between police and protesters in the capital and in similar protests in Thessaloniki, the country's second-largest city, where riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to repel demonstrators throwing paint, stones and Molotov cocktails.

Protest organizers disputed government assurances that rail safety had been comprehensively overhauled in the past 12 months.

In a statement marking the anniversary of the disaster, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said an ongoing judicial investigation into the crash has the government’s full support and cooperation.

"On this sad anniversary we bow our heads in memory of the 57 innocent people we lost and the ordeal of those wounded," he said. "Our thoughts are with families, who have every right to turn their pain into protest."

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