World Digest: July 30, 2013

July 30, 2013
SPAIN
‘Black box’: Driver of train was on phone

The driver was on the phone with a colleague and apparently looking at a document as his train barreled ahead at 95 mph — almost twice the speed limit. Suddenly, a notorious curve was upon him. He hit the brakes too late.

The train, carrying 218 passengers in eight carriages, hurtled off the tracks and slammed into a concrete wall, killing 79 people.

On Tuesday, investigators studying the crash announced their preliminary findings from analysis of the train’s data-recording “black boxes,” suggesting that human error appears to be the cause of Spain’s worst railway disaster in decades.

The derailment occurred near Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain, last Wednesday. Sixty-six people remain hospitalized, 15 in critical condition.

According to a statement from a court in Santiago de Compostela, where the probe is based, train driver Francisco JoséGarzón Amo received a call from an official of national rail company Renfe on his work phone in the cabin to tell him what approach to take toward his final destination.

The Renfe employee on the telephone “appears to be a controller,” the statement said. “From the contents of the conversation and from the background noise it seems that the driver [was] consulting a plan or similar paper document.”

The train had been going as fast as 119 mph shortly before the derailment, and the driver activated the brakes “seconds before the crash,” according to the statement.

— Associated Press

TUNISIA
Pressure intensifies on ruling coalition

Tunisia’s largest labor union called Tuesday for the dissolution of the Islamist-led government, and the interior minister offered to resign as a political crisis deepened.

Softening its rejection of demands for the government’s departure, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party that leads the ruling coalition said it was ready for a new government but opposed any move to disband an elected body that has almost completed work on a new draft constitution.

Protests against the party surged after last week’s killing of a leftist politician, the second in six months, disrupting the country’s tense political transition.

— Reuters

Italian minister demands end to racist comments: Italy’s first black minister has demanded that the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League political party put “a clear and sharp” stop to racist remarks directed at her by members of his party. Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge has been the target of numerous racist outbursts since accepting the cabinet post in Enrico Letta’s three-month-old government. Most recently, Northern League council members walked out of a meeting she attended in a town near Milan, and a party official near Padua likened her to a gorilla in a Facebook post.

Prison, whipping for Saudi liberal: The founder of a liberal-minded Web site in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes after angering Islamic authorities in the ultraconservative kingdom, the al-Watan newspaper reported. Raif Badawi, through his site Free Saudi Liberals, had urged Saudis to share opinions about the role of religion in the country, which follows a strict form of Islam that includes harsh punishments for challenging customs.

Al-Qaeda asserts responsibility for Iraq blasts: Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq asserted responsibility Tuesday for a wave of bombings across the country, as shootings and explosions into the night killed at least 12 people. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in a statement posted online, said it staged the attacks Monday that killed at least 58 people — mostly in Shiite areas across the country — to support “oppressed Sunnis.”

Toll rises in Ni­ger­ia bombings: Multiple explosions at a bar and entertainment area in a Christian quarter of Nigeria’s northern and mainly Muslim city of Kano late Monday killed at least 24 people, a hospital official said, double the initial tally. A military spokesman blamed the attack on suspected members of the Islamist extremist Boko Haram network, based mainly in the northeast, where a state of emergency is in effect. Kano city and state, however, are in the northwest and not part of that emergency.

Mandela’s health continues to improve: The office of South Africa’s president said former leader Nelson Mandela remains in critical but stable condition in a hospital but is continuing to show improvement. Jacob Zuma urged the public to continue praying for the 95-year-old former president and anti- apartheid figure. Mandela was hospitalized June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.

— From news services

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