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Bulgaria bus crash: Children among at least 46 killed

At least 46 people, including 12 children, have died after a bus crashed and caught fire in western Bulgaria, officials say.

The incident happened on a motorway south-west of the capital Sofia at about 02:00 local time (00:00 GMT).

The bus was registered in North Macedonia and was mainly carrying tourists, who were returning from a trip to Istanbul in Turkey.

Seven people escaped from the bus and were taken to hospital with burns.

Speaking at the accident site, Bulgarian Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said the victims had been badly burned, describing it as a “terrifying scene”.

The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear. Bulgarian officials say the bus swerved off the motorway and tore away a 50m (164ft) section of the crash barrier, but it was unclear if that was before or after it caught fire.

Pictures of the aftermath showed a section of the road where the barrier had been shorn off. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.

The mayor of the nearby village of Pernik told local media that the motorway was in poor condition on that section and there were often accidents in the area.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani told reporters the coach party had been returning to the capital Skopje from a weekend holiday trip to the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Bulgarian media reports say the vehicle, which had been travelling as part of a convoy of buses, had stopped off at a petrol station near Sofia about an hour before the accident.

The victims have not yet been officially named, but officials said they included children, and young people aged between 20 and 30.

Macedonian TV channel Alsat released a list of names it said were passengers on the bus. Comments by Albania’s foreign minister indicate that most, if not all, the passengers were ethnic-Albanians from North Macedonia.

Earlier, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he spoke to one of the survivors, who told him that passengers were sleeping when the sound of an explosion woke them.

“He and the other six survivors broke the windows of the bus and managed to escape and save themselves,” Mr Zaev told Bulgarian media.

He said the bus belonged to Besa Trans, a travel company that organises trips in Europe.

Within hours of the disaster, relatives of people who travelled to Turkey with Besa Trans last week gathered outside the firm’s office in Skopje, anxiously looking for information.

Bulgaria’s interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev described the incident as “an enormous tragedy”.

“Let’s hope we learn lessons from this tragic incident and we can prevent such incidents in the future,” he told reporters as he visited the site of the crash.

The area around the site of Tuesday’s incident on the Struma motorway has now been sealed off. Footage from the scene shows the charred vehicle, gutted by the fire.
Investigative service chief Borislav Sarafov said “human error by the driver or a technical malfunction are the two initial versions for the accident”.
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