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Six go on trial in Portugal for 2001 fatal bridge collapse

LISBON, April 19, 2006 (AFP) - Six engineers accused of negligence over the collapse of a century-old bridge in northern Portugal in 2001 that killed 59 people went on trial Wednesday.

It was the nation's worst ever road accident.

If found guilty the accused, four employees of a state highway board and two inspectors, aged between 57 and 77, face prison terms of up to seven years.

The metal bridge across the Douro River at Entre-os-Rios, some 260 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of Lisbon, which opened in 1887, collapsed on March 4, 2001, sending a bus packed with day-trippers and three cars plunging into the swollen river.

The accident shattered public faith in Portugal's creaking infrastructure and damaged the popularity of the Socialist government in power at the time, especially after it was reported that locals had for year warned officials about the poor condition of the bridge.

Public Works Minister Jorge Coelho resigned over the collapse, which was cited by some analysts as one of the factors behind the Socialists' defeat by the centre-right Social Democrats in early elections held in March 2002.

Relatives of the victims said senior politicians, including former ministers, should be on trial along with the engineers as they also shared the blame for the disaster.

"All of them are largely responsible for the decision to build a new bridge or not, and for ensuring that it was secure or not," a representative of an association of the victims' families, Augusto Moreira, told Portuguese radio.
 

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Ministers can not personally fiscalize all bridges of a country, they have people very well paid and formed by the ministery to fiscalize bridges so if they fail they must answer for what they dont made, seven years its noth enough to such big neglects.
 
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