Firefighters and rescuers operate after a collision in Tempe near Larissa city, Greece, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. A train carrying hundreds of passengers has collided with an oncoming freight train in northern Greece, killing and injuring dozens passengers. (AP Photo/Vaggelis Kousioras) (Vaggelis Kousioras, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATHENS – A general strike in Greece called in response to a rail disaster last month grounded flights and extensively disrupted services, with protests in cities across the country planned for Thursday.

The strike also kept ferries to the Greek islands at port, left public 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 that have staged rolling walkouts since the head-on train collision in northern Greece on Feb. 28 that left 57 people dead and dozens injured.

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

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ center-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.

Mitsotakis has promised clearer boundaries between privatized 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.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.