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Train hits bus carrying Sikh pilgrims in Pakistan: 22 dead

Local residents gather beside the wreckage of a bus close to a railway track following a train and bus accident, in Farooq Abad in Sheikhupura district, Pakistan, on July 3, 2020. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) -- A passenger train crashed into a bus carrying Sikh pilgrims at an unmanned railway crossing in eastern Pakistan on Friday, killing 22 people, including seven women, officials said. At least six pilgrims were injured.

    The accident happened in the district of Sheikhupura in Punjab province, according to Raja Ijaz, an official at the state-run emergency service. Ghazi Salahuddin, the district police chief, said the dead and injured were taken to a nearby hospital.

    The Sikh pilgrims were from the northwestern city of Peshawar and were returning home from a visit to the shrine of Nankana Sahib in Sheikhupura. Officials said the injured were later transported to a hospital in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where two critically injured died, increasing the death toll to 22.

    Asghar Joya, a government official in Sheikhupura, said an initial assessment indicated the bus driver tried to cross the railway tracks as the train neared but the bus skidded and got stuck. He said, however, that officials were still investigating. He said authorities will provide a plane to take the bodies to Peshawar, where dozens of relatives of the victims had gathered to mourn their loved ones.

    TV footage showed the train and the badly destroyed bus on the railway tracks.

    Sheikhupura resident Dilbir Singh said the pilgrims, after visiting the shrine and before leaving for Peshawar, had also visited the home of a relative whose family member had recently died.

    Pakistan's President Arif Ali and Prime Minister Imran Khan issued statements expressing their sorrow and ordering local authorities provide the best possible treatment for the injured.

    Sikhs have several shrines of their religious leaders in Pakistan. One, of Sikh founder Guru Nanak, built after he died in the 16th century, is located in the Punjab village of Kartarpur, on the border with India.

    Many Sikh holy sites became part of Pakistan after the British partitioned the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947 following two centuries of colonial rule. Ties between the rival nuclear-armed neighbors deteriorated sharply after India revoked the disputed Kashmir region's semi-autonomous status in early August.

    Train accidents are common in Pakistan, mainly due to lack of enforcement of safety standards, a poorly kept railroad system and negligence of drivers. In February, a train crashed into a bus carrying passengers at an unmanned railway crossing in the district of Rohri in southern Pakistan, killing 19 people and injuring 28 others.

    Last November, a fire caused by a cooking gas stove swept through a train in Punjab, killing 74 people. Survivors at the time said it took nearly 20 minutes for the train to stop; there were also contradictory reports about the condition of the train's brakes.

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