Anger mounts over Assiut killer train crash

Ahram Online, Sunday 18 Nov 2012

Eyewitnesses and rights groups describe horrific scenes at Upper Egyptian crash site as protesters demand government be held responsible for deaths of 50 children; Egypt's transport minister investigated

People gather at the site of a train crash in the city of Manfalut near Assiut, about 300 km (186 miles) south of Cairo, November 17, 2012. Fifty people, mostly children, were killed when a train slammed into a school bus as it crossed the tracks at a rail crossing south of Cairo on Saturday, further inflaming public anger at Egypt's shoddy transport (Photo: Reuters)


Egypt's Transport Minister Rashad El-Metini has been called for interrogation by the public prosecution, and banned from leaving the country after announcing his resignation following the deaths of 50 school children in a fatal bus accident in Upper Egypt on Saturday.

El-Matini, who potentially faces charges of negligence, was the second official to resign, Railway Authority head Mostafa Qenawi also stepped down following the incident.

A bus carrying 60 kindergarten children, aged between four and six years old, was reportedly hit by a train as it drove over a railway crossing in the Assiut village of Manfalout, Saturday morning.

There are conflicting reports of how the collision happened. The Railway Authority earlier claimed that the bus driver drove the school bus over the tracks despite the fact that the warning lights and sirens were sounding.  

However, other eyewitnesses speaking to Al-Ahram's Arabic language news website asserted that the train passed through the crossing at an unexpected time.

Bloody scenes, bodies unidentified

A Human Rights report issued the same day by the New World for Development and Human Rights Foundation, who were among the first to arrive to the scene,  stated that the death toll of children had risen from 47 to 50 with another 13 in a critical condition.

Hundreds of family members gathered at the scene to identify their lost loved ones, however according to the report only 43 of the child victims have been named, six bodies remain unidentified.

In addition, Egypt's Interior Ministry earlier stated that both the bus driver and  his assistant were among the dead.

The report described a blood-spattered railway track, as body parts of slain children remain trapped under the train. Families of those killed, who blocked the track and neighboring road, reportedly refused to remove the bodies before an investigative committee examined the evidence.

"The accident scene was horrific. You could see children uniforms and school books scattered around with blood stains on them," Ahmed Abdel-Karim, an activist at the scene told Ahram Online.

The fatal crash could be attributed to negligence, Abdel-Karim continued, as the 60 children were crammed into the mini-bus that was built to accommodate only 30 people.

In the afternoon, tens of activists gathered at the Assiut governorate headquarters calling for the resignation of governor Yehia Keshk, families of the victims demanded that the ministry be held accountable. A symbolic funeral was also staged in front of the government building according to Abdel-Karim who attended the protest and funeral. 

Protests also took place at the Assiut hospital, where the victims were being treated, which were subsequently beaten up by police, Abdel-Karim reported.

The majority of the injuries at the hospital, he added, were severe. 

Political groups slam Qandil administration

Different political parties groups released statements claiming that government neglect of roads and poor public transportation services were to blame and have resulted in the loss of many lives over the course of the last few years.

"The martyrdom of 50 children in the Assiut train accident on Saturday is only one of a series of accidents caused by negligence," stated the Constitution Party which called for the transport system to be completely restructured.

"The consecutive road accidents are the result of the failure of past governments - the continuation [of these incidents] is a sign that the current government lacks political vision and fails to rightly prioritise," the statement added.

April 6 Youth Movement also denounced Hisham Qandil's administration for, it said, lacking the capability to face up to a crisis and to hold those responsible to account.

The youth group demanded a new national coalition government that is"capable of dealing with the situation. 

"The government failed to accomplish anything that would make us proud of it as a post-revolution administration," the statement read.

Egypt's transport problem

Egypt has witnessed an increase in fatal road and train accidents. 

On the same day as the Assiut tragedy, another twelve were killed and several injured after a microbus collided with a lorry on the Wahat Road in south Giza.

Last Saturday, a train accident in the governorate of Fayoum claimed four lives.

October also saw a number of major accidents: three people died and twelve were injured in two separate incidents on the same train in the Nile Delta's Qalioubiya governorate.

In addition, 21 soldiers were killed and 27 injured on 8 October, after a police driver lost control of the vehicle on rugged terrain in northern Sinai.

According to a report published in July 2011 by the Central Authority for Public Transport, road and rail accidents claimed over 7,000 lives in Egypt in 2010 — a rise of 7.9 per cent over the previous year.

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