Sunday’s papers: Conflicting reports over deadly train-bus collision

The main news item in all daily papers Sunday is the deadly bus-train collision which left at least 50 school children dead in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut on Saturday, as well the public prosecutor’s ongoing investigations into the incident.

A school bus loaded — perhaps overloaded, as some newspapers speculate — with over 60 school children from the Nour Institute for Azhari Islamic Education drove onto a railway crossing and was then struck by a passenger train moving at full speed. The children are reported to be between the ages of two and fifteen. The bus driver and his assistant are purportedly among the dead.

The fatal collision, the latest in a series of train accidents, led to the resignation of Transportation Minister Rashad al-Matiny and the dismissal of Mostafa Qinawy, head of the Egyptian National Railway Authority. Meanwhile, Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud has ordered the interrogation of five other railway officials and employees, as well as investigations into the incident.

“Three teams appointed by prosecution to investigate the accident” reads a headline in state-owned Al-Akhbar newspaper. The article mentions that these three teams are to investigate the technical, administrative, and forensic aspects of the accident to determine the causes — both direct and indirect — behind the accident.

Al-Akhbar runs photo-spreads of the remnants of the shredded bus and the injured children in hospital, as well as features about the children who were killed and injured. While the paper’s front page states that 51 students were killed and another 16 were injured, page 7 reports three conflicting numbers in three different articles, citing: 47 dead and 13 injured, 50 dead and 17 injured, and 50 dead and 16 injured.

The independent Al-Shorouk newspaper reports 50 dead and 15 injured and quotes a leading official from the Health Ministry as saying that the number of fatalities is subject to increase as a number of the injuries are serious and/or life-threatening.

The partisan Al-Wafd newspaper states that 60 died and 20 were injured, while privately-owned Youm7 reports 51 dead and 17 injured.

Other than conflicting reports of casualties, newspapers also run conflicting accounts as to whether the railroad crossing was open or closed when the bus attempted to drive over its tracks. Al-Akhbar cites local railway officials who claim that the railroad crossing was blocked by a gate with alarms and warning lights — alleging that the driver attempted to break through this gate and thus collided with the advancing train. However, the paper also cites eyewitnesses who claim the gate was wide-open immediately before the accident.

The independent Al-Sabah, quoting the deputy chief of the Egyptian National Railway Authority, reports that the gate was clearly open.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice newspaper, it cites eyewitnesses who allege that the signal operators and railway crossing workers had been seen smoking hashish and watching TV together at the local watchtower, neglecting their responsibilities.

The independent Al-Tahrir newspaper, quoting another railway official, claims that signal operators had repeatedly contacted the workers at the crossing (by phone) only to find them asleep.

In another of its articles, Al-Akhbar states that the Insurance and Social Affairs Ministry is offering families of the deceased compensation of LE5,000, and families of the injured LE1,000. Meanwhile, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, to which the Nour Institute is affiliated, is offering LE10,000 for families of the deceased and LE5,000 for families of the injured.

Al-Tahrir runs a satirical flashback article about President Mohamed Morsy, dating back to 2002 when he was a member of Parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood. Ten years ago, as an MP, Morsy called on the Mubarak regime to resign following the disastrous Ayyat train accident which left 361 dead. The article, entitled “You’re just not yourself when you are president,” asks why Morsy and his regime are not willing to step down in light of this deadly incident.

Nearly all papers mention that Prime Minister Hesham Qandil was heckled and chased away from the Assiut Hospital by angry family members of the deceased children. Even Al-Akhbar asks, “Why did the prime minister wait five and half hours before travelling” to the scene of this crisis?

As for the Freedom and Justice paper, it points the finger at Qandil and his Cabinet, while attempting to wash President Morsy’s hands of the issue altogether. The FJP mouthpiece reports that, “Morsy has inherited a legacy of corruption, neglect and mismanagement of the national railway network from Mubarak regime.”

“Qandil chose his own Cabinet members, and he is responsible for appointing the negligent transportation minister and railway authorities,” Freedom and Justice continues.

Al-Shorouk runs an article on the Brotherhood and FJP’s statements on the incident, under the headline, “Brotherhood shirks responsibility for the train crash, accuses ousted regime, political opposition and Qandil government.”

Privately-owned Al-Tahrir runs a piece called, “The curse of train accidents haunts Qandil.” This piece reports that the prime minister facing heavy criticism because of the head-on collision of two passenger trains in Upper Egypt on 10 November, which led to the deaths of at least four, in addition to the latest incident, which took place one week later.  

The FJP paper runs an article entitled “6,000 deaths and 21,000 injuries in railway accidents over the course of the past ten years.” The article cites “statistics” without mentioning the source.

Under the headline, “Negligent government kills 60 children… Egypt has not changed” the Wafd Party’s mouthpiece paper claims that Morsy’s administration is just as negligent as that of his predecessors.

Egypt’s papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Watan: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Al-Sabah: Daily, privately owned

Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

Al-Nour: Official paper of the Salafi Nour Party

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