The crash has triggered mass protests that at times turned violent, including in Athens

Athens (AFP) - Greece faces a fresh round of mass strikes and nationwide protests on Wednesday as anger mounts over the country’s worst rail tragedy that killed 57 people last week.

Fourteen people remain in hospital after a freight train crashed head-on with a passenger train, carrying mostly students, near the central city of Larissa on February 28.

A station master, who admitted forgetting to reroute one of the trains, has been arrested and charged with negligent homicide and transport disruption. He faces life in jail if convicted.

But public anger remains widespread in Greece over decades of government mismanagement of the rail network and a failure to pursue safety reforms.

On Wednesday, Greek civil servants are to stage a fresh 24-hour walkout alongside doctors, schoolteachers, bus drivers and ferry crew.

Railways will remain paralysed for an eighth straight day, as train workers extend strike action they launched in the aftermath of the accident.

Last week protests triggered by the crash saw riot police clash repeatedly with demonstrators, including in Athens. The public order ministry has said talks are being held with protest organisers to avert new violence.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had been expected to call national elections for April 9, has been widely criticised for laying too much blame on the station master.

Greece’s transport minister resigned on March 1 and Mitsotakis has apologised to victims’ families, pledged to get to the bottom of what happened and embarked on a flurry of public appearances in an apparent bid to soothe anger.

- ‘Hollow’ apology -

He visited the crash site and gave a televised address, blaming “human error” for the accident while calling for a special committee of experts to investigate.

Public anger remains widespread in Greece over decades of government mismanagement of the rail network and a failure to pursue safety reforms

But critics have been merciless. Writing in liberal daily Kathimerini, columnist Pantelis Boukalas said the prime minister’s apology was “belated” and that some may suspect it was “guided by PR gurus”.

Left-wing daily Avgi said the premier’s “hollow” apology had “turned into tear gas against families at a peaceful protest demanding justice and truth”.

The prime minister and other politicians suspended election campaigning in the wake of the tragedy. There is now speculation that the polls could be delayed until May.

Mitsotakis has vowed to seek EU assistance to “finally” modernise the train network and called on the Supreme Court to investigate the tragedy as fast as possible.

“We all know the country’s railways are deeply problematic,” Mitsotakis said.

There is little sign, however, that public anger is easing. Last weekend, football fans around the country hurled insults at the prime minister during matches.

Political life will resume Thursday after a period of national mourning, but the premier seems in no rush to confront the issue of the looming polls.

Asked Monday when Mitsotakis will set an election date, government spokesman Yiannis Economou replied: “At this stage, this issue is not on the prime minister’s mind at all.”