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Greece gripped by strikes on 1st anniversary of deadly train crash

Greece was hit by a 24-hour nationwide strike on Wednesday, paralyzing public services including transport and hospitals.

The trade union-led strikes were called to protest low salaries amid high living costs.

In central Athens, around 20,000 protestors marched on Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the country’s deadliest-ever train crash, which happened one year ago in the valley of Tempi. Several masked young people threw Molotov cocktails at police in front of the Parliament building.

The umbrella union of civil servants ADEDY organized the demonstration on this symbolic day to call for justice for the 57 victims of the crash.

Slogans on banners carried by thousands of strikers in Athens and other cities called for human lives to be prioritized over profits. They linked the train tragedy to the living standards of salaried employees, as well as to the legacy of austerity measures imposed during the Greek debt crisis (2009-2018) to keep the economy afloat.

“The much-discussed privatization of services killed those 57 young people,” said Pantelis Vainas, member of the Executive Committee of ADEDY, addressing the rally.

Greece’s state rail company was privatized during the debt crisis as part of bailout programs, and services personnel shrank. Unionists have called for hirings across the civil sector.

Meanwhile, a judicial investigation into the circumstances of the head-on collision of a passenger train with a freight train is still underway. Most of the passengers who died in the crash were young students returning to universities after a holiday. Many rail employees and officials face possible charges, but survivors and victims’ families are also calling for the prosecution of politicians, blaming former ministers for the state of the network and gaps in safety systems.

“A year later, the tragedy of Tempi (the site of the accident in central Greece) still hurts and angers society. The pain remains unabated and questions unanswered… The state’s duty is to attribute responsibility and ensure that our country never again experiences such a blow to citizens’ safety and trust,” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said on Wednesday.

“The guilty will be punished… I have complete confidence in justice. The truth will soon emerge and the state’s efforts to cure its own serious deficiencies are also not taking long,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

During the rally in front of the Greek parliament on Wednesday, demonstrators said that the governments of the past two decades were responsible for the train tragedy, as well as for the everyday struggle of the average household to make ends meet.

They demanded sufficient wage increases to be able to deal with increased living costs, amidst inflationary pressures linked to the energy crisis.

During the Greek debt crisis, salaries and pensions were slashed as part of austerity measures. The economy has recovered in recent years, and the government has given pay rises to civil servants and private sector employees. However, unionists and protestors say these increases are far from enough. ■

Famagusta Gazette