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Families of Greece train crash victims grieve as protests grow

funeral of a 34 year old woman, a victim of a train collision near the city of larissa
Pallbearers carry the coffin of a 34-year old woman, a passenger of a train that collided with another train near the city of Larissa, during her funeral procession in Katerini, Greece

Families and friends, dressed in black, clung to each other, in tears, as the coffin of a 34-year-old mother killed in Greece’s deadliest train crash was lifted up the stairs of a church on Friday.

The first known funeral after Tuesday night’s accident, which killed at least 57, took place in the northern town of Katerini, as police said 52 bodies had so far been identified – almost all from DNA tests as the crash was so violent.

Carriages were thrown off the tracks, some of them crushed and engulfed in flames, when a passenger train and one carrying freight collided on the same track at high speed in central Greece.

There were more than 350 people on board the passenger train, many of them university students going back to the northern town of Thessaloniki from the capital Athens after a long holiday weekend.

Anger has grown across the country over the crash, which the government has attributed to human error but which unions say was inevitable due to lack of maintenance and faulty signalling.

After evening protests over the past two days, some 2,000 students took to the streets in Athens on Friday, blocking the road in front of parliament for a moment of silence.

Students also demonstrated in Larissa, the central city near where the crash took place, and protests were expected in other cities later in the day.

Students held up black balloons. One placard read: “It was not an accident, it was murder.” The word “Murderers” was painted in red on the street.

“Most of all we feel rage that this could happen in the year 2023, how two trains can collide… when there is so much technology,” said 21-year-old student Aggelos Thomopolous.

“How do you think I feel? It’s a disgrace,” said another student, 18-year-old Maria Choremi. “All of Greece is crying from morning until evening while they sit in their offices drinking coffee,” she said, referring to politicians.

Outside the hospital in Larissa, where many of the victims were taken, the parents of a 22-year-old man waited in anguish for confirmation of what had happened to their son.

“They killed him, that is what happened. They are murderers, all of them,” Panos Routsi said.

Not long before the crash, his son Denis had told him he would be late and would call. “I’m still waiting,” Routsi said.

Denis had travelled to Athens to see friends. His mother, Mirela, showed reporters a picture on her mobile of her son beaming.

On Friday, 38 passengers were still being treated in hospital, seven of them in intensive care.

Railway workers who began a strike on Thursday extended their walkout by another 48-hours on Friday.

‘CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THERE’

In school yards in Athens, students used their bags to write the words “Call me when you get there,” a phrase that has become one of the protest slogans.

Protesters also wrote the slogan in candles outside parliament.

Larissa’s 59-year-old station master was arrested and has admitted to some responsibility, his lawyer said, while stressing he was not the only one to blame.

“The federation has been sounding alarm bells for so many years, but it has never been taken seriously,” the main railworkers’ union said, demanding a meeting with the new transport minister, appointed after the crash with a mandate to ensure such a tragedy can never happen again.

The union said it wanted a clear timetable for the implementation of safety protocols.

Opposition politicians also started to voice criticism.

“Any effort to hide and cover up the truth over the Tempi tragedy is disrespecting the dead and foretelling new tragedies,” said Popi Tsapanidou, a spokesperson for the leftwing Syriza, Greece’s main opposition party.

Before the crash, the government had said that an election would be held in the spring, with media citing April 9 as the most likely date. Political analysts say that plan might now be pushed back.

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