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.

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