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Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for a general election for May – two months before his conservative government’s mandate ends in July, as his government faces widespread anger over a train disaster that killed 57 people in February.
The country has seen a series of angry mass protests, accusing successive governments of failing to address safety issues – a legacy of Greece’s decade-long financial crisis which ended in 2018.
Most of the victims of the incident were university students returning from a long holiday weekend.
Greece’s transport minister resigned after the disaster, while the on-duty stationmaster and three other railway officials have been charged in connection with the crash and face possible life sentences.
Railway unions had long warned authorities about problems with Greece’s railway network, claiming a decade of spending cuts had left it underfunded, understaffed, and vulnerable to accidents.
Government faces backlash at the polls
Since the crash, the government’s lead in opinion polls has roughly halved to as little as three points over its main left-wing rival.
“It was a tragedy that should never have happened. It is inconceivable to think that in Greece in 2023 there could be two trains on the same track, travelling in opposite directions and that no one realized it,” Mitsotakis said in the interview with private Alpha television where he discussed the election date.
“I believe people, while feeling anger and rage, understand that this accident resulted from the sum of mistakes made over many decades. We now have an obligation now to deal with them drastically … We feel a heavy responsibility.”
Train service resumes
Train services in Greece resumed Wednesday for the first time since last month’s disaster.
National and suburban train services restarted only along limited sections of the rail network, with additional train and station staff and compulsory speed reduction points at areas where the potential for a collision is considered higher.
The first train of the day was the 04:45 a.m. service from Athens to Inoi, 60 kilometres to the north. The suburban rail service from Athens to its international airport was also restored.
Full services will resume on April 11, including railway transportation between Athens and Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.
The deadly collision between a passenger train on the Athens-Thessaloniki route and an oncoming freight carrier highlighted long-standing problems with systems to monitor network safety.