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Oil rises to 3-week highs as OPEC+ agrees to deep cuts (AUDIO)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Wednesday to three-week highs, as OPEC+ agreed to its deepest cuts to production since the 2020 COVID pandemic, despite a tight market and opposition to cuts from the United States and others.

Prices also rose on U.S. government data that showed crude and fuel inventories fell last week. [EIA/S]

Brent crude rose $2.01, or 2.2%, to $93.81 a barrel by 11:40 a.m. EDT (1540 GMT). Brent reached a session high of $93.96 per barrel, its highest since Sept. 15.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose $1.78, or 2.1%, to $88.30 a barrel. It reached $88.42 per barrel during the session, the highest since Sept. 15.

Both Brent and WTI rose sharply in the last two days.

The 2 million-barrel-per-day (bpd) cut from OPEC+ could spur a recovery in oil prices that have dropped to about $90 from $120 three months ago on fears of a global economic recession, rising U.S. interest rates and a stronger dollar.

Oil had been rising this week in anticipation of the cuts, said Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at City Index.

“The real impact of a large cut would be smaller, given that some of the members are failing to reach their output quotas,” Cincotta added.

In August, OPEC+ missed its production target by 3.58 million bpd as several countries were already pumping well below their existing quotas.

“We believe new output targets will mostly be shouldered by core Middle East countries, led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait,” said Rystad Energy’s analyst Jorge Leon.

The United States was pressing OPEC+ producers to avoid making deep cuts, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters, as President Joe Biden looks to prevent a rise in U.S. gasoline prices ahead of midterm congressional elections on Nov. 8.

Biden has been grappling with higher gasoline prices all year, which have eased after a spike, something his administration has touted as a major accomplishment.

In U.S. supply, crude stocks, gasoline and distillate inventories fell last week, the Energy Information Administration said. Crude inventories posted a surprise draw of 1.4 million barrels to 429.2 million barrels. [EIA/S]

U.S. gasoline stocks fell more-than-expected by 4.7 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, also posted a larger-than-expected draw, falling by 3.4 million barrels.

“It was definitely a bullish report this week with the across the board inventory declines, sizable ones in gasoline and distillates,” said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Isabel Kua in Singapore; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Elaine Hardcastle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)


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Putin finalises ‘annexation’ in Ukraine even as troops flee front

By Max Hunder and Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) -President Vladimir Putin signed a law to incorporate four partially occupied Ukrainian regions into Russia on Wednesday, in what Kyiv called the act of a “collective madhouse” at a time when Russia’s forces have been fleeing from the front lines.

The new law would incorporate around 18% of Ukraine’s territory into Russia, equivalent to the area of Portugal, in Europe’s biggest annexation since World War Two.

Russia does not fully control any of the four provinces it claims to have annexed, however, and Moscow has yet to demarcate what it now asserts to be Russia’s new borders.

Ukrainian forces have recaptured thousands of square miles of territory since the start of September, including dozens of settlements in just the past few days.

A new map published by Russian state news agency RIA included the full territory of the Ukrainian provinces, but some parts were shaded and labelled as being under Ukrainian military control.

“They will be with Russia forever,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the new regions, adding that settlements recaptured by Ukraine in recent days “will be returned”.

Putin said Russia would stabilise the situation in the four provinces. In one of his first moves to assert his rule over them, he ordered the Russian state to seize control of Europe’s biggest nuclear power station, still run by Ukrainian engineers despite being captured early in the war by Russian troops.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, said it had learned of plans to restart one reactor at the plant, where all six reactors have been shut down for weeks.

Russia announced the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces after staging referendums that Kyiv and the West say were phoney exercises held at gunpoint. Kyiv says it will never accept the illegal seizure of its territory by force.

The Russian moves come as momentum in the war has clearly swung in Ukraine’s favour since the start of September.

Thousands of Russian troops fled their positions after the front line crumbled, first in the northeast, and, since the start of this week, also in the south.

“Worthless decisions by a terrorist country are not worth the paper they are signed on,” Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Telegram of the annexation moves, which he said reminded him of a “collective madhouse”.

Ukraine has so far given few details of its most recent military gains, in line with a policy of withholding comment about advances while they are under way.

“This week alone, since the Russian pseudo-referendum, dozens of population centres have been liberated. These are in Kherson, Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk regions all together,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address on Tuesday.

POWER STATION

Putin’s order to seize control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station could be one of the first major practical consequences of the annexation move.

The power station is located right on the front line, on a Russian-controlled bank of a giant reservoir with Ukrainian forces on the opposite bank, and both sides have warned of the danger of a nuclear disaster from fighting near it.

In recent days, Russia detained the Ukrainian manager in charge of the plant. He has since been released but will not return to work.

The head of Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company Energoatom, Petro Kotin, said he was now taking charge of the plant and urged workers not to sign any documents with its Russian occupiers.

Kyiv has long accused Moscow of planning to switch the plant from Ukraine’s power grid to Russia’s, a move it says would heighten the risk of an accident.

IAEA head Rafael Grossi, who is due to visit Kyiv and Moscow this week, posted on Twitter a picture of himself boarding a train for Kyiv and said negotiations on a safe zone around the plant were more important than ever.

The European Union agreed a new package of sanctions on Wednesday to punish Russia for the annexation plan. The measures include more restrictions in trade with Russia in steel and tech products, and an oil price cap for Russian seaborne crude deliveries through European insurers.

On the battlefield, Russian forces that have been forced to retreat in recent days have dug in at new positions where they hope to halt the Ukrainian advance, officials on both sides have said.

Russian defence ministry maps presented on Tuesday also appeared to show rapid withdrawals of Russian forces from areas in eastern and southern Ukraine. After months of official proclamations that the “special military operation” is “going to plan”, commentators on Russian television have acknowledged the setbacks.

Putin responded to the loss of territory two weeks ago by announcing the annexation plan, ordering the call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists and threatening nuclear retaliation to protect Russian land. Tens of thousands of Russian men have since fled the country to escape the draft.

In the east, Ukrainian forces have been expanding an offensive after capturing the main Russian bastion in the north of Donetsk, the town of Lyman. They are now pushing into Luhansk province, which Moscow had claimed to be totally under its control after some of the war’s heaviest fighting in June and July.

In the south, the Ukrainians have recaptured a swath of territory in Kherson province along the west bank of the wide Dnipro River, threatening to cut thousands of Russian troops off from resupply or escape.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Hugh Lawson)


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EU’s von der Leyen pitches gas price caps to EU leaders

By Philip Blenkinsop and Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will suggest to EU leaders meeting this week how the EU could cap gas prices in a bid to contain soaring energy costs.

EU governments have debated a gas price cap for weeks, without reaching agreement. While a majority of EU members support some form of cap to tackle soaring inflation, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are opposed, citing concerns over security of supply.

The EU executive’s chief laid out her proposals in a letter on Wednesday to EU country leaders, who will discuss whether or how to cap gas prices at a meeting in Prague on Friday.

“We should consider a price limitation in relation to the TTF in a way that continues to secure the supply of gas to Europe and to all Member States,” her letter said, referring to the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) gas price.

Such a cap would be a temporary fix while the EU works on a new gas price benchmark, von der Leyen said.

Brussels says a new index is needed since the main TTF benchmark is guided by pipeline supply and no longer representative of a market that includes more liquefied natural gas.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed von der Leyen’s proposal on Twitter as “a very important step in the right direction”.

One senior EU diplomat expressed scepticism however, saying it would be difficult to design a measure suited to all 27 EU countries’ national energy markets.

Russia has slashed gas deliveries to Europe since its invasion of Ukraine, blaming the supply cuts on western sanctions imposed over the invasion.

Von der Leyen said the EU should also consider a price cap on gas used to generate electricity – but that any cap must be matched with tougher requirements to cut gas demand, to ensure gas consumption does not rise at a time when the fuel is scarce.

Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, von der Leyen said the EU should also try to negotiate a price “corridor” on gas imports from trusted suppliers.

Von der Leyen said the EU should consider extra funding sources to ensure all member countries can invest enough to weather the energy crisis.

The Commission has said it is in talks with Germany about its 200 billion euro ($198.8 billion) support package that critics say threatens to distort competition in the bloc.

($1 = 1.0058 euros)

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Bart Meijer and Kate Abnett; editing by Barbara Lewis, Alexandra Hudson, Kirsten Donovan)


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Iranian-made drones hit Ukraine’s Kyiv region for first time- officials

By Felix Hoske and Max Hunder

BILA TSERKVA/KYIV (Reuters) – Dozens of firefighters rushed to douse blazes on Wednesday in a town near Ukraine’s capital Kyiv following multiple strikes caused by what local officials said were Iranian-made loitering munitions, often known as ‘kamikaze drones’.

Six drones hit a building overnight in Bila Tserkva, around 75 km (45 miles) south of the capital, said the governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba.

Ukraine has reported a spate of Russian attacks with Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones in the last three weeks, but the strike on Bila Tserkva was by far the closest to Kyiv.

Iran denies supplying the drones to Russia, while the Kremlin has not commented.

“There was a roaring noise, a piercing sound. I heard the first strike, the second I saw and heard. There was a roar and then ‘boom’ followed by an explosion,” said 80-year-old Volodymyr, who lives across the street from the stricken building.

Other residents told Reuters they heard four explosions in quick succession, followed by another two over an hour later.

Ukrainian forces appear to have been caught on the back foot by the drones, which Kyiv says Moscow started using on the battlefield in September.

Speaking on television on Wednesday, Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said the drones were launched from occupied areas in southern Ukraine, and that six further drones had been shot down before reaching their target.

“This is a new threat for all the defence forces (of Ukraine), and we need to use all available means to try to counter it,” Ihnat said, comparing the drone’s small size to an artillery shell.

The attacks left locals in Bila Tserkva shaken and seeking cover when subsequent air raid sirens sounded.

“It is beyond me what those Russians think. I do not know when we will manage to chase them from our territory. It is just tears and heartache for my Ukraine. That’s all I can say,” said 74-year-old Lyudmyla Rachevska.

(Reporting by Felix Hoske in Bila Tserkva and Max Hunder in Kyiv, writing by Max Hunder; Editing by Gareth Jones)


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Trailblazing Brazilian trans lawmakers face more conservative Congress

By Steven Grattan

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Erika Hilton, a 29-year-old Sao Paulo city council member, just made history as one of the first two transgender lawmakers elected this week to Brazil’s Congress.

But the victory is bittersweet, Hilton said, after a stronger-than-expected showing by President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies in Sunday’s general election consolidated a robust right-wing coalition among her future colleagues, who she said have voiced transphobic sentiments.

“I’m concerned about the composition of Congress right now and the possibility of Bolsonaro’s re-election,” said Hilton, whose religious parents threw her out of the house at 14, leaving her to work for several years as a sex worker.

Bolsonaro and his leftist challenger, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, both fell short of an outright majority on Sunday, so they will face off in an Oct. 30 runoff vote.

Hilton and fellow trans lawmaker-elect Duda Salabert, from the state of Minas Gerais, said their top priority now is to get Lula elected.

Bolsonaro has frequently stirred controversy with comments denigrating women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), Black and indigenous people.

Hilton, who is Black, called her historic election a case of “justice for (her) ancestors.”

“I think that being a woman, Black, travesti, we always have more challenges than other people,” she said. “We have the challenge of getting people to recognize that our political project is not just for travesti and transsexuals or for the LGBT community,” added Hilton, who has run on improving LGBT rights as well as addressing domestic violence, education and social housing.

Many trans Brazilians, including Hilton and Salabert, call themselves and their community “travesti,” a reclaimed pejorative term that incorporates both their trans and Brazilian identities.

Alheli Partida, head of global programs at the LGBTQ Victory Institute in Washington, called the Hilton and Salabert’s elections a “transformative moment for Brazil.”

“I believe they will have a tough job,” she added. “Conservatism is very strong still in the country.”

Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world for trans women, who are targeted frequently with violence, according to Transgender Europe. Last year, 140 trans Brazilians were murdered, according to the Rio-based National Association of Travestis and Transgender People (ANTRA).

Salabert, 41, who serves on the Belo Horizonte city council and has focused on environmental issues, faced down violent threats and intimidation in her successful run for Congress this year.

Salabert said her most recent death threats came from a website created just days before the election describing ways people wanted to kill her, which led her to use a bulletproof vest at the polling station. Hilton also travels with a security team at all times.

“Our victory is a victory for human rights, since we are going to bring to the center of the political debate an agenda that has been historically excluded from public debate, which is the reality of traveseti and transgender people,” Salabert said.

She said her team are organizing for Lula’s victory and she is helping his campaign in the key state of Minas Gerais.

“We are still a long way from what we want, deserve and need when it comes to citizenship, dignity and rights,” said Hilton, who was met with applause in the halls of the Sao Paulo city council on her first day back at work this week. “But, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a change.”

(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by Brad Haynes and Josie Kao)


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Israeli forces kill Palestinian man in West Bank confrontation, health officials say

NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) -Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, the latest in a series of near-daily confrontations.

At least six other Palestinians, including two journalists, were wounded by Israeli fire and dozens more were treated for tear gas inhalation, medics at the scene said.

The clashes began when Israeli forces surrounded the house of Salman Imran, claimed as a member by the Islamist militant group Hamas, in the town of Deir al-Hatab east of Nablus.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it carried out the operation to apprehend Imran, who was suspected of involvement in an attack against Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday.

Soldiers surrounded Imran’s house following precise intelligence, the statement said, and responded with live fire after he shot at the forces while barricaded inside.

In an audio message circulating on social media, Imran said he was engaged in a gun fight with Israeli soldiers and called on other men to join.

Witnesses said dozens of Palestinian gunmen fired at Israeli forces in an attempt to foil their operation.

Videos on social media seemed to show Imran being escorted outside his house by Israeli soldiers after hours of fighting.

The wanted man’s uncle, Bassim Imran, told Reuters he convinced his nephew to eventually turn himself in after Israeli forces fired a grenade at the multi-storey family home and began knocking it with a bulldozer.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the man who was killed, 21-year-old Alaa Zaghal, was shot in the head. Palestinian medics said he was unarmed when Israeli forces fired at him near the town’s entrance, away from where the clashes were taking place.

The Israeli military said in its statement that an assailant was killed during an exchange of fire.

“These clashes are part of an escalation in our resistance in the West Bank and is our people’s response to what is happening in the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque,” Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told Reuters.

Israel has intensified its raids in the West Bank in recent months following a spate of Palestinian street attacks that killed 19 people in its cities and as a general election approaches on Nov. 1.

More than 80 Palestinians, including gunmen and civilians, have been killed since January, in what the European Commission described as the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2008.

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in a 1967 Middle East War. Palestinians seek these territories for a future state.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Nablus and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Additional reporting and writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Bernadette Baum)


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Protesters block Budapest bridge in support of Hungarian teachers

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarian students, teachers and parents blocked a Budapest bridge near parliament on Wednesday in support of teachers fighting for higher wages and teachers sacked for protesting.

Teachers have launched an “I want to teach” campaign and called for civil disobedience to demand higher wages, a solution to a deepening shortage of teachers, and the right to strike.

Protesters carrying banners saying “Do not sack our teachers” and “For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present” filled a Budapest bridge, blocking traffic in the biggest anti-government demonstration since another blockade over a tax hike on small businesses in July.

The rally had been due to march to a main square outside parliament later in the evening.

Trade unions had called a nationwide teachers’ strike for Wednesday. After a nationwide teachers’ strike in January 2022, the government restricted strike action.

Several teachers were dismissed last week at a Budapest secondary school for joining the protest.

Earlier on Wednesday students formed a chain stretching for kilometres (miles) across the Hungarian capital. Some held up banners “No teachers, no future” and “Who will teach tomorrow?”, while cars passing in the morning traffic blew horns in support.

“The state of our public education is so bad that talented people leave the country, go to university in other countries and do not envisage their lives here,” said Gergely Forizs, a parent, who joined the morning rally.

“There is no future like that. We do not see the future of our children ensured here.”

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term on April 3, faces a mounting challenge as the economy is heading into recession next year, with inflation in double digits.

The government said it would hike teachers’ wages once the European Commission releases EU recovery funding to Hungary which has been withheld amid a rule-of-law dispute.

Parliament speaker Laszlo Kover, a senior member of Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, told HirTV on Monday that teachers’ wages were lagging average earnings but strikes were not the way to achieve a solution.

“I am sure that strikes won’t help… as everyone knows that the level of wages is in no way related to the quality of teaching in the short term,” Kover said.

($1 = 421.09 forints)

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo; Editing by Michael Perry)


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Trailblazing Brazilian trans lawmakers face more conservative Congress

By Steven Grattan

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Erika Hilton, a 29-year-old Sao Paulo city council member, just made history as one of the first two transgender lawmakers elected this week to Brazil’s Congress.

But the victory is bittersweet, Hilton said, after a stronger-than-expected showing by President Jair Bolsonaro and his allies in Sunday’s general election consolidated a robust right-wing coalition among her future colleagues, who she said have voiced transphobic sentiments.

“I’m concerned about the composition of Congress right now and the possibility of Bolsonaro’s re-election,” said Hilton, whose religious parents threw her out of the house at 14, leaving her to work for several years as a sex worker.

Bolsonaro and his leftist challenger, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, both fell short of an outright majority on Sunday, so they will face off in an Oct. 30 runoff vote.

Hilton and fellow trans lawmaker-elect Duda Salabert, from the state of Minas Gerais, said their top priority now is to get Lula elected.

Bolsonaro has frequently stirred controversy with comments denigrating women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), Black and indigenous people.

Hilton, who is Black, called her historic election a case of “justice for (her) ancestors.”

“I think that being a woman, Black, travesti, we always have more challenges than other people,” she said. “We have the challenge of getting people to recognize that our political project is not just for travesti and transsexuals or for the LGBT community,” added Hilton, who has run on improving LGBT rights as well as addressing domestic violence, education and social housing.

Many trans Brazilians, including Hilton and Salabert, call themselves and their community “travesti,” a reclaimed pejorative term that incorporates both their trans and Brazilian identities.

Alheli Partida, head of global programs at the LGBTQ Victory Institute in Washington, called the Hilton and Salabert’s elections a “transformative moment for Brazil.”

“I believe they will have a tough job,” she added. “Conservatism is very strong still in the country.”

Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world for trans women, who are targeted frequently with violence, according to Transgender Europe. Last year, 140 trans Brazilians were murdered, according to the Rio-based National Association of Travestis and Transgender People (ANTRA).

Salabert, 41, who serves on the Belo Horizonte city council and has focused on environmental issues, faced down violent threats and intimidation in her successful run for Congress this year.

Salabert said her most recent death threats came from a website created just days before the election describing ways people wanted to kill her, which led her to use a bulletproof vest at the polling station. Hilton also travels with a security team at all times.

“Our victory is a victory for human rights, since we are going to bring to the center of the political debate an agenda that has been historically excluded from public debate, which is the reality of traveseti and transgender people,” Salabert said.

She said her team are organizing for Lula’s victory and she is helping his campaign in the key state of Minas Gerais.

“We are still a long way from what we want, deserve and need when it comes to citizenship, dignity and rights,” said Hilton, who was met with applause in the halls of the Sao Paulo city council on her first day back at work this week. “But, without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a change.”

(Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by Brad Haynes and Josie Kao)


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India-made cough syrups may be tied to 66 deaths in Gambia -WHO

By Leroy Leo and Edward McAllister

(Reuters) -The deaths of dozens of children in Gambia from kidney injuries may be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups made by an Indian drug manufacturer, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the U.N. agency was conducting an investigation along with Indian regulators and the drugmaker, New Delhi-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Ltd.

Maiden Pharma declined to comment on the alert, while calls and Reuters messages to the Drugs Controller General of India went unanswered. Gambia and India’s health ministry also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The WHO also issued a medical product alert asking regulators to remove Maiden Pharma goods from the market.

The products may have been distributed elsewhere through informal markets, but had so far only been identified in Gambia, the WHO said in its alert.

The alert covers four products – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup and Magrip N Cold Syrup.

Lab analysis confirmed “unacceptable” amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, which can be toxic when consumed, the WHO said. Gambia’s government said last month it has also been investigating the deaths, as a spike in cases of acute kidney injury among children under the age of five was detected in late July.

Medical officers in Gambia raised the alarm in July, after several children began falling ill with kidney problems three to five days after taking a locally-sold paracetamol syrup. By August, 28 had died, but health authorities said the toll would likely rise. Now 66 are dead, WHO said on Wednesday.

The deaths have shaken the tiny West African nation, which is already dealing with multiple health emergencies including measles and malaria.

Maiden Pharmaceuticals manufactures medicines at its facilities in India, which it then sells domestically as well as exporting it to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to its website.

(Reporting by Leroy Leo and Raghav Mahobe in Bengaluru, Jennifer Rigby in London and Edward McAllister; Editing by Anil D’Silva, William Maclean)


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Jeers, scuffles as trial of 2013 Spanish train disaster that killed 80 begins

MADRID (Reuters) -The trial of a Spanish train driver and a former head of traffic safety at national rail-infrastructure operator Adif over a train disaster that killed 80 people in the summer of 2013 kicked off on Wednesday, with a protester punching one of the defendants in a scuffle outside the courtroom.

In the country’s worst rail accident in decades, another 145 people were injured when the eight-carriage, high-speed Alvia 04155 train veered off the track on a sharp bend near the northernwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, slamming into a concrete wall and bursting into flames.

The Rail Accident Investigation Commission, which is under the Transport Ministry, concluded in a report that the accident was caused by speeding and the driver, Francisco Jose Garzon, being distracted by a call from a superior.

However, the Association of Victims of Alvia 04155, one of two organisations representing the victims, blame the accident not only on human error but also on the railway’s security systems.

Garzon’s lawyer, Manuel Prieto, told reporters on Wednesday that there were safety flaws on the railway. Neither Adif’s former head of traffic safety, Andres Cortabitarte, nor his representatives commented on the case. He previously told a parliamentary commission in 2018 that he was not responsible for the safety of the line in question.

One of the protesters punched Cortabitarte in the back as he was escorted by police while he was jeered at by bereaved relatives of victims of the accident.

TV footage outside the courtroom in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in Spain’s northwest, showed the aggressor being taken aside by a policeman.

The prosecutor is asking for both defendants to be imprisoned for four years and disqualified from their professions. They are charged with 80 offences of manslaughter by gross professional negligence, 145 offences of injury and one offence of damages.

Earlier this week, members of the association protested in front of the Spanish parliament in Madrid requesting justice.

“There are people who are no longer here, they have passed away. There will never be justice for them,” spokesman Jesus Dominguez told national broadcaster TVE on Wednesday before the trial started.

The proceedings, held in a cultural centre in Santiago de Compostela, are expected to last months with more than 700 witnesses and experts taking the stand.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, David Latona and Diane Craft)


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