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Greek unions launch general strike over rail disaster

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A general strike in Greece called in response to a rail disaster last month has grounded flights and extensively disrupted services as large protests were held in cities across the country.

The strike also kept ferries to the Greek islands in port, left hospitals running with emergency staff, halted public transport services and led to class cancellations at state-run schools.

Unions have rallied behind railway workers’ associations which have staged rolling walkouts since the head-on train collision in northern Greece on February 28th which left 57 people dead and dozens injured.

The largest protests were held in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, and in the capital Athens, where thousands chanted “this crime will not be forgotten” as they reached a police cordon outside a private rail operator.

Stores and banks closed their shutters when the protesters filed past as the capital was brought to a standstill.

A wide variety of labour associations — from those representing lawyers to delivery drivers — joined the strike.

The government, which faces a parliamentary election before the summer, says rail services will restart on March 22nd and will be restored gradually until April 11th, with additional staff to monitor safety and mandatory speed reduction rules along sections of the track.

Israeli prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s centre-right government has seen a strong lead in opinion polls reduced in recent weeks over its main rival, the left-wing Syriza party, with the two sides also locked in an ideological debate over how to reform Greece’s antiquated rail network.

Mr Mitsotakis has promised clearer boundaries between privatised services and the authorities overseeing them, seeking assistance from European Union experts in drawing up the changes.

His political opponents argue that the poorly managed dismantling of agencies under state control has ultimately compromised rail safety.

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