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Protests in Greece continue as burial of victims begins

LARISSA: More demonstrations took place on Saturday to protest the causes of Greece’s worst-ever train disaster, as the first victims were laid to rest.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across the country since a passenger train and a freight train collided on Tuesday, killing at least 57 people.

A court appearance for the station master charged in the disaster has been delayed by one day, and public outrage is growing over the government’s failure to ensure rail network safety.

More protests were held in several cities on Saturday evening, with hundreds of people gathering in Athens and Thessaloniki.

On Sunday, a rally of students and railway workers has been called in the capital’s Syntagma Square, next to parliament, which was the site of clashes on Friday night.

The first burials of crash victims began on Saturday, and relatives of the deceased are expected to gather on Sunday for a memorial outside Larissa station in central Greece, near the site of the disaster.

“What happened was a crime,” protester Sophia Hatzopoulou, 23, a philosophy student in Thessaloniki, said.

“We can’t stand by and watch all of this happen.”

At least nine Aristotle University students were among those killed on the train, which was carrying many students returning from a holiday weekend.

‘New components’ in case

The station master in Larissa, central Greece, whose identity has not been revealed, has accepted responsibility for the accident, which saw the two trains run parallel for several kilometers.

The 59-year-old was scheduled to appear in court on Saturday, where he could face negligent homicide charges, but will now appear on Sunday, according to his lawyer, Stefanos Pantzartsidis.

If convicted, he faces life in prison, but Pantzartsidis claims that other factors were at work. “In this case, there are significant new elements that must be investigated.”

According to public broadcaster ERT, the station master was appointed to the post, which covered several stations, only 40 days prior — and after only three months of training.

According to the Kathimerini Daily, he was apparently working alone at the station for four days without supervision, despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend with high demand and heavy rail traffic.

According to legal sources, investigators are also considering criminal charges against members of Hellenic Train’s management.

A judicial source told AFP that police seized audio files and other items during a raid on the Larissa train station.

The government has also formed a committee to investigate the accident’s causes.

The head of the train drivers’ union, Kostas Genidounias, said they had already warned authorities about safety flaws on the line where the crash occurred.

Hellenic Train union leaders raised the alarm just three weeks ago.

“We are not going to wait for the accident to happen before we cry crocodile tears,” they said at the time.

Operation cleanup

A minute’s silence was observed outside the Greek parliament on Friday, but riot police and a small group of protesters later clashed in central Athens.

Officers fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in Syntagma Square, according to an AFP reporter.

A similar number protested in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, where police reported clashes with demonstrators throwing stones and petrol bombs on Thursday.

Striking workers in Greece shut down train services on Thursday, claiming that successive administrations’ mismanagement of the network contributed to the fatal collision. The strike lasted through the weekend.

On Saturday, the clean-up operation was still in progress, with technical crews sifting through scattered debris and removing train carriages from the scene.

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