Clashes erupted briefly between police and a group of demonstrators in central Athens on Sunday on the fringes of a protest by thousands of students and railway workers over Greece’s deadliest train crash in living memory.

A small group of protesters hurled gasoline bombs at police, who responded with tear gas and hand grenades, before dispersing to nearby streets.

At least 57 people were killed and dozens were injured on Tuesday when a passenger train with more than 350 people on board collided with a freight train on the same track in central Greece.

After protests over the past three days across the country, some 10,000 students, railway workers and groups affiliated with leftist parties gathered in an Athens square on Sunday to express sympathy for the lives lost and to demand better safety standards on the rail network.

Protesters yell and hold banners on the street.
Protesters shout at police firing tear gas while holding a banner reading ‘Murderers’ during Sunday’s demonstration in Athens. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

“That crime won’t be forgotten,” protesters shouted as they released black balloons into the sky. A placard read: “Their policies cost human lives.”

The train, travelling from Athens to the northern city of Thessaloniki, was packed with university students returning after a long holiday weekend. The disaster has triggered an outpouring of anger, as well as a sharp focus on safety standards.

Tear gas is fired at protesters.
Protesters clash with police firing tear gas during a demonstration in Athens on Sunday, held in response to a deadly train accident late on Feb. 28 near the city of Larissa, Greece. (Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Riot police walk near a fire caused by a gasoline bomb.
A petrol bomb explodes next to riot police during clashes in Athens on Sunday. (Yorgos Karahalis/The Associated Press)

Railway workers, who also lost colleagues in the accident, have staged rotating walkouts since Wednesday to denounce cost-cutting and under-investment in the rail infrastructure, a legacy of Greece’s debilitating debt crisis from 2010 to 2018.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ government has blamed human error for the crash. However, Mitsotakis said on Sunday that human error should not deflect from responsibilities for a long-suffering railway network.

PM promises fast investigation

“As prime minister, I owe everyone, but most of all the relatives of the victims, an apology,” he wrote on Facebook. “Justice will very fast investigate the tragedy and determine liabilities.”

A station master in the nearby city of Larissa who was on duty at the time of the crash was charged this week with endangering lives and disrupting public transport.

The station master, who cannot be named under Greek law, appeared before a magistrate on Sunday after his lawyer requested extra time on Saturday to respond to the charges following new information concerning the case. Those proceedings were ongoing.

Railway workers’ unions say safety systems throughout the rail network have been deficient for years as a remote surveillance and signalling system has not been delivered on time. They have called on the government to provide a timetable for the implementation of safety protocols.

People bring black balloons to a protest over a deadly rail accident in Greece.
People gather during a protest outside the Greek parliament in Athens on Sunday. They released black balloons to honour the victims of last Tuesday night’s deadly train crash in central Greece. (Aggelos Barai/The Associated Press)

Mitsotakis said on Sunday that if there had been a remote system in place throughout the rail network “it would have been, in practice, impossible for the accident to happen.”

Greece would soon announce action, he said, adding that Athens would seek expertise from the European Commission and other countries on improving rail safety.

WATCH | Deadly Greek train disaster blamed on human error

Deadly Greek train disaster blamed on human error

Officials in Greece say human error is to blame for a train crash Tuesday night that killed at least 36 people and injured dozens more, the country’s deadliest rail crash in living memory. Police have arrested a stationmaster and the country’s transport minister has resigned in the wake of the crash.

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