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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Mechanical failure blamed for Seoul train collision

Posted: 03 May 2014 02:50 AM PDT

SEOUL, May 03, 2014 (AFP) - A malfunctioning automatic stopping system caused the recent collision of two subway trains in Seoul, officials said Saturday.

A moving train slammed into the rear of another, which had stopped at Sangwangsimni station in eastern Seoul on mid-afternoon Friday, leaving more than 200 people injured. One elderly woman was seriously hurt, while more than 150 required some sort of treatment - mainly for cuts and sprains.

The accident was a fresh blow to a country still reeling from the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy that left 300 dead or missing - most of them high school students - after the ship capsized and sank.

"The Automatic Train Stop system (ATS) installed at Sangwangsimni station failed to function properly", Seoul Metro President Chang Jung-Woo told journalists.

ATS is designed to control the distance between trains, and should activate when the two trains were within 200 meters of each other.

The system malfunctioned, consequently, the following train came too close to the stationary train, leaving little time for the driver to brake.

The tunnel curves before entering Sangwangsimni station and the driver did not see the platform was occupied until quite late, Chang added.

The last two carriages of the stationary train appeared to have been thrown off the rails by the force of the impact, and TV footage showed cracked windows on the two trains and one door connecting two carriages that had been completely knocked off its hinges.

Train service on the subway line No.2 returned to normal early Saturday.

Seoul's subway network is one of the busiest in the world, carrying around 5.25 million passengers a day, according to official data from City Hall.

The collision added to public anger and frustration with the country's lax safety standards exposed by the ferry disaster.

The Chosun Ilbo daily with the country's largest circulation said Saturday that Seoul subway line No.2 was built 34 years ago and was run-down, and warned South Korea was not investing enough in maintaining its infrastructure.

"This country, however, has been parsimonious in investing in safety measures while rushing for ostensible economic achievement", it said in an editorial.

350 dead, thousands missing in Afghan landslide

Posted: 03 May 2014 02:46 AM PDT

AAB BAREEK, Afghanistan, May 03, 2014 (AFP) - Rescuers searched for survivors on Saturday after a landslide buried an Afghan village, killing 350 people and leaving thousands of others feared dead amid warnings that more earth could sweep down the hillside.

Local people tried to dig out victims trapped under a massive river of mud that engulfed Aab Bareek village in Badakhshan province where little sign remained of hundreds of destroyed homes.

The United Nations confirmed that 350 people were dead, and provincial officials said more than 2,000 could be still missing 24 hours after the disaster.

Emergency workers arrived on Saturday morning to be confronted by the enormous scale of the landslide and hundreds of homeless families.

"There is a very thick layer of mud. It is very difficult for people to take dead bodies out," Sayed Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, provincial director of the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority, told AFP from the scene.

"There is fear of another landslide. Our assessment team have seen a crack in a nearby hill.

"They have only been able to find the body of a woman and a man.

"We have started distributing food... but we don't have enough tents for all the 700 families who spent the night outside. There are around 2,000 people - women, children, elders - without homes."

Dehqan cautioned that the death toll remained uncertain, after Badakhshan governor Shah Waliullah Adeeb said that 2,500 people could have been killed.

The site is expected to be designated a mass grave and memorial services have been planned for later Saturday.

Villagers were at Friday prayers in two mosques when they were entombed by a tide of debris, and a second landslide hit many who had rushed to assist those in need. 

Food, shelter needed

"All the relevant UN agencies - together with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and NGO partners - are already on the ground," the UN mission in Afghanistan said.

"The immediate focus is on approximately 700 families displaced either directly as a result of this slide or as a precautionary measure from villages assessed to be at further risk.

"Key needs for them are water, medical support, counselling support, food and emergency shelter."

President Hamid Karzai expressed his condolences to those affected and said immediate action was being taken to find survivors.

But large-scale rescue work could be impossible as roads to the area cannot take heavy machinery.

Badakhshan is a remote, mountainous province in northeast Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, China and Pakistan.

It has been relatively peaceful since the US-led military intervention began in 2001, but has seen increasing Taliban activity in recent years.

Local officials said that the landslides occurred at about midday (0730 GMT) in the Argo district of Badakhshan after days of heavy rain.

Between 350 and 400 houses were destroyed, they said.

US President Barack Obama described the deaths as "an awful tragedy" and pledged to help the relief effort.

The landslides follow recent severe flooding in other parts of northern Afghanistan, with 150 people dead and 67,000 people affected by floods in Jowzjan, Faryab and Sar-e-Pul provinces.

Nearly 3,500 houses were damaged and destroyed by the floods.

Flooding and landslides often occur during the spring rainy season in northern Afghanistan, with flimsy mud houses offering little protection against rising water levels and torrents of mud.

In the last major flooding in Afghanistan, 40 people died in August in flash floods in eastern and southeastern provinces and some districts of the capital Kabul.

Afghanistan is in the middle of presidential elections, with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani due to compete in a head-to-head vote on June 7.

Preliminary results from the first round of elections on April 5, in which eight candidates ran, showed no one gained the 50 percent needed for a decisive victory.

France's Carrefour to quit India

Posted: 03 May 2014 02:43 AM PDT

NEW DELHI, May 03, 2014 (AFP) - Carrefour, the world's second largest retailer, is working on a plan to exit India, media reports said Saturday, amid political uncertainty about the future of multi-brand retail in the South Asian giant.

The reports in the Times of India and Business Standard and other dailies come as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win India's marathon general election which winds up in mid-May, declared it opposes allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail.

Indian newspapers quoted unnamed sources in the France-based company as saying Carrefour had been working on an exit strategy for two weeks.

Carrefour did not answer telephone calls from AFP, but Business Standard newspaper quoted the retailer's regional director Franck Kenner as saying: "At this point, we will not be able to comment on anything."

The Indian newspapers said Carrefour's plans to leave the country come after talks to sell its five wholesale stores to Indian tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal's retail group failed.

The reports said there had been several senior level exits from Carrefour India already, and that the company saw little hope of the next Indian government allowing foreign chains to set up multi-brand outlets in the country.

The BJP announced in its manifesto it will not allow FDI in multi-brand retail, while promising to push foreign investment in other sectors of the economy.

Carrefour had been expected to set up supermarkets in India after the Congress-led national government in 2012 allowed foreign stores to launch 51-percent-owned joint ventures in the country they had eyed for years as a potentially lucrative market.

But after the new FDI in retail rules were passed by the Congress government, protests erupted among shopkeepers and labourers who feared a loss of jobs and the collapse of small family-run stores.

The retail sector landscape remains dominated by traditional family-owned shops and small grocery stores.

The central government has left it to each state to decide whether foreign retailers can set up shop - but enthusiasm has been muted.

The northwestern desert state of Rajasthan, which had a Congress government, reversed its policy of allowing FDI in multi-brand retail after the BJP came to power.

One of the few foreign retailers to commit to India recently is Britain's Tesco, which has declared it will invest in India since the Congress government relaxed the FDI rules. Tesco has struck a deal with India's giant conglomerate Tata to invest in a dozen stores in India.

Another is Swedish giant Ikea, which plans to open 25 stores as part of a wider push into emerging markets.

But while foreign supermarkets hold back from India, domestic chains such as Future Group and Aditya Birla Retail are rapidly expanding.

The growth of the domestic chains underlines the potential of a big-spending middle-class - expected to cross 250 million people by 2015, consultancy McKinsey estimates.

In March, Carrefour reported a rise in profit and said its effort to turn around its French operations were starting to show results.


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