Greek PM survives no-confidence vote over 2023 train crash

Credit: REUTERS/Louiza Vradi

Updates with PM quotes, vote result

ATHENS, March 28 (Reuters) - The government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis survived a no-confidence vote on Thursday over the handling of a train crash last year that killed 57 people, after media reports emerged this week alleging manipulation of evidence.

Leftist opposition parties submitted a censure motion against the conservative government this week accusing it of "trying to hide the truth" after a freight train collided head-on with a passenger train in central Greece, the worst accident in the country's history.

The government has denied any wrongdoing and the ruling New Democracy party's parliamentary majority was confirmed during the vote, despite a heated debate.

"I call on you to vote in favour of a government which, despite the great difficulties, takes the country steadily forward," Mitsotakis told parliament before the vote.

The motion highlighted how many are still angered by a disaster that revealed how decades of neglect and mismanagement had jeopardised railway safety. Experts say little has changed to improve standards since, despite reform efforts.

"You were advertising the railway's safety when you knew what common citizens did not know," said Zoe Constantopoulou, head of the party Plefsi Eleftherias which co-signed the censure motion initiated by the Socialist PASOK party.

An investigation by a Greek magistrate into the crash is underway and is expected to be completed in the coming months. Dozens of people have been charged so far, including a station master who is in custody pending trial.

To Vima newspaper reported on Saturday that a recording of a dialogue between the station master and the train driver, leaked to media hours after the crash, had been allegedly edited to put the blame on human error rather than systemic problems in the rail network. Reuters was unable to confirm the allegations.

Τwo ministers, both Mitsotakis' close aides, resigned on Thursday for meeting the owner of To Vima a day after the report was published.

Investigators hired by victims' relatives have also alleged that quickly removing burnt carriages from the crash site and laying down gravel may have destroyed evidence. Greece did not have a functional national investigating body of such incidents at the time of the crash.

Victims' relatives have started a petition to amend century- old rules that protect politicians from prosecution. They have collected more than 1.3 million signatures so far.

Mitsotakis' New Democracy party, which leads opinion polls, says the opposition is exploiting the case to benefit politically. Justice Minister George Floridis called the allegations a "campaign of lies and deception".

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Edward McAllister, Angus MacSwan and Alistair Bell)

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