Trains on same track collide, killing at least 16
SZCZECHOCINY, POLAND | Two trains running on the same track collided headon in southern Poland in a shower of sparks, killing 16 people and injuring 58 in the country’s worst train disaster in more than 20 years.
The crash near Krakow turned cars at the front of each train into heaps of mangled metal and toppled others on their sides.
Residents of the town of Szczechociny, startled by what they said sounded like a bomb, rushed to the scene to smash open windows, and survivors emerged in a state of shock, many crying out for help and carrying baggage.
Rescuers worked through the night to recover bodies and help the wounded.
One of the trains was on the wrong track. Maintenance work was being done on the tracks before the accident, but officials said it was too early to determine the cause of the disaster.
The U.S. consulate in Krakow said an American woman was among the dead and her family had been informed. Spokesman Benjamin Ousley said he could give no more information.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk earlier had said that several of the passengers were foreigners, including people from Ukraine, Spain and France, but none of them was among the dead or most-seriously injured.
President Bronislaw Komorowski visited the site Sunday, saying that when rescue efforts are over he would make an announcement about a period of national mourning.
“This is our most tragic train disaster in many, many years,” Mr. Tusk said. “It’s a very, very sad day and night in the history of Polish railways and for all of us.”
The trains could hold up to 350 people, but it was not clear how many were on board.
The accident comes three months before millions of soccer fans will start crisscrossing the country — many by train — to watch matches in the Euro 2012 Championship, which is being cohosted by Ukraine.
Poland, a country of 38 million still recovering economically from decades of communist rule, doesn’t yet have the high-speed trains of Western Europe.
Many of the local trains are old and slow, but there is fairly speedy service between some key cities, and trains generally are seen as safe.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation into how the train got on the wrong track.
One train was traveling from the eastern city of Przemysl to Warsaw in the north, while the other — on the wrong track — was heading south from Warsaw to Krakow.
The tragedy was Poland’s worst involving trains since 1990, when 16 people were killed in a collision involving two trains in the Warsaw suburb of Ursus. Since then, the most serious Polish rail accident was in 1997, when 12 people were killed in Reptowo.
SEOUL | North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the heavily armed border with rival South Korea and ordered troops to be on high alert, state media reported Sunday, just days after Washington and Pyongyang agreed to a nuclear deal after years of deadlock.
Mr. Kim’s visit to Panmunjom village in the Demilitarized Zone, his first reported trip there since the December death of his father, Kim Jong-il, comes amid escalating militaristic rhetoric aimed at U.S. ally South Korea.
Recent North Korean threats, including vows of a “sacred war” against Seoul over U.s.-south Korean military drills, appear to be aimed at a domestic audience, analysts say, and could be an effort to bolster Kim Jong-un’s credentials as a military leader after showing off his diplomatic skills on the U.S. nuclear deal.
Still, the rhetoric keeps the region on edge and complicates diplomatic efforts to settle the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Washington has said that better inter-korean ties are crucial for diplomacy to succeed.
North Korea also has acted on its threats in the past. Fifty South Koreans died in violence blamed on North Korea in 2010, leading to fears of a broader conflict.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied in Pyongyang, vowing to topple South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who ended a nostrings-attached aid policy to the North when he took power in 2008, instead linking assistance to nuclear disarmament.
The city’s main Kim Il-sung Square was packed with soldiers and citizens who stood at attention as speakers criticized Mr. Lee’s government. Military chief Ri Yong-ho warned in a speech that the North Korean army would “sweep out” the South Korean traitors using their guns, according to footage from North Korea’s state TV.
Soldiers and citizens later paraded in rows through the plaza, carrying fluttering red flags, pumping their fists and chanting, “Let’s kill Lee Myung-bak by tearing him to pieces.”
The threats are aimed internally as Kim Jong-un bolsters his power among the elite and military as the third generation of his family to lead the country, said Jeung Young-tae, an analyst with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
“It’s something that Kim Jong-un must do as the successor,” Mr. Jeung said. “The North did a similar thing when Kim Jong-il appeared as the new leader” in 1994 following the death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, he said.
North Korea accuses the United States and South Korea of holding the joint military drills as preparation for a northward invasion.
The allies say the military exercises, which began last week and are scheduled to end in late April, are routine and defensive in nature.
Pyongyang is also angry about a South Korean military unit near Seoul recently posting threatening slogans beneath portraits of Kim Jong-un and his father.
During his Panmunjom visit, Kim Jong-un told troops to “maintain the maximum alertness as they are standing in confrontation with the enemies at all times,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Panmunjom is a cluster of huts inside the 154-mile-long DMZ, which is jointly overseen by the U.s.-led U.N. Command and North Korea in an arrangement established in 1953 to supervise the ceasefire that ended the three-year Korean War. About 28,500 U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea.