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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 09:29 GMT
Minister resigns over Egypt train fire
Rescue worker walks beside charred carriages
Passengers were going home for an Islamic festival
Egypt's Transport Minister, Ibrahim al-Demeri, has resigned following the country's worst ever train fire, which claimed over 370 lives.


We have ordered all relevant agencies to carry out a comprehensive investigation

President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak

The head of the country's railway authority, Ahmed al-Sherif, has also tendered his resignation over Wednesday's disaster.

President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has accepted both resignations, and promised a thorough investigation into the inferno.

The cause of the accident on the night train from Cairo to Luxor was initially blamed on passengers using portable cookers.

"We will not allow any attempt to hide the truth or cover up any aspect because...the accident was grave, the loss was tragic," Mr Mubarak was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as telling state television.

Identification difficult

The resignations come as relatives of the dead continue the gruesome task of trying to identify their loved ones.

But many victims of the disaster - the worst in the 150-year history of Egypt's railway system - are too badly burnt to be recognised.

Click here to see how the disaster unfolded

Compensation of about $650 has been promised to the relatives of those who died in the disaster. Families have been given until Saturday to identify their relatives.


Relatives of victims
1. Train leaves Cairo at 2130 GMT on Tuesday heading south to Luxor

2. Fire breaks out at about 2200 GMT

3. Train travels a further 7km on fire before stopping at al-Ayatt

The remaining bodies will be buried in a mass grave, a senior official told Reuters news agency.

The train was full of people returning to their homes in southern Egypt for the five-day Eid al-Adha festival, which celebrates the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

The carriages were crammed to over twice their capacity when the fire began.

The driver did not immediately realise the train was on fire and continued moving for seven kilometres (more than four miles) before stopping at the town of al-Ayatt, 70km south of the capital.

Inferno on wheels

The train had lacked air conditioning and the draught coming from the open windows would have fanned the flames, causing them to spread swiftly.

Passengers who tried to escape were trapped by bars on the train's windows - others died when they jumped from the moving train.

Many of the bodies found were badly charred and journalists reported seeing the remains of children in carriages strewn with debris.

Survivors described the horrific scramble to escape the burning carriages as the electricity went out and the carriages were plunged into darkness, one calling the train a "tunnel of death".

Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid said an investigation would be held into safety precautions on the train.

Opposition accusations

But the banned opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, pointed the finger at "gross negligence" behind the fire.

And opposition newspaper al-Wafd demanded that those responsible be brought to trial.

"This is more than gross negligence," an editorial for the newspaper said. "We need to know who was responsible and hang them in public squares and curse them for what they have done to the helpless Egyptian people."



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See also:

21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Egyptian train disaster
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Egypt's train disaster
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Survivors tell of Egyptian train horror
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country Profile: Egypt
05 Feb 02 | Business
Egypt calls for aid
24 Oct 01 | Middle East
14 children dead in Egypt bus plunge
20 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Factory fire kills 15 in Egypt
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Egypt's history of train disasters
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