Egyptian train hits school bus, 51 killed

Associated Press Modified: November 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm •  Published: November 17, 2012
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At the crash site, parents of the missing wailed as they looked for signs of their children on the tracks. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said many of the remains were unrecognizable.

Residents of the region, like most other Egyptians in the provinces, are far removed the politics of Cairo and more preoccupied with basic needs. Most are armed and many handle disputes through local tribal councils rather than through official government channels.

After the accident, grieving families set up road blocks in the area to prevent Egypt's prime minister from reaching the scene late Saturday. Some burned logs and fired automatic rifles in the air, chanting "Down with Morsi!"

Crowds heckled Prime Minister Hesham Kandil when he arrived, surrounded by riot police, at a main hospital treating some of the injured.

Around 10 family members of those killed met Kandil on the outskirts of the city of Assiut to ask that a kindergarten be built in their village so that children do not have to travel nearly 15 miles to school on unpaved roads.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political force and Morsi's base of support, blamed the crash on a culture of negligence fostered by deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

"It is unacceptable that things remain as they are without drastic treatment," it said in a statement, adding that it recommends a renovation of the entire transport system to spare the lives of citizens.

Residents also gathered outside the provincial governor's office, demanding the Brotherhood member resign.

Egypt's railway system has a poor safety record, mostly blamed on decades of badly maintained equipment during the Mubarak era. Accidents due to negligence regularly killed scores over the three-decade rule of Mubarak, who was accused of valuing loyalty over competence in many appointments of senior officials. Widespread corruption has also been blamed for the underfunding of government services, particularly in poor provinces outside Cairo.

The railway's worst disaster was in February 2002, when a train heading to southern Egypt caught fire, killing 363 people. Media reports quoting official statistics say that rail and road accidents claimed more than 7,000 lives in 2010.

Residents near the crash site say the railway crossing guard was asleep Saturday when the bus drove over the track. It appeared the crossing was not closed as the train sped toward it. Authorities detained a railway worker who had fled the scene.

One prominent opposition group said Morsi should bear some responsibility for Saturday's accident.

"He is the one who chose this failed government whose disasters increase day after day," the April 6 movement said in a statement.

Liberal figurehead Mohammed ElBaradei said in a post on Twitter: "When will the Egyptian feel his life has value and that there is a nation to protect it?"

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Batrawy contributed from Cairo.