Saudi King Sets Panel to Investigate School Tragedy
Saudi King Fahd announced Monday the establishment of a top-level commission to investigate the deaths of 15 young girls at a public school in Mecca, the official SPA news agency reported.
The panel "will investigate the causes and those responsible will be held accountable," Information Minister Fuad al-Faresi quoted the king as telling the cabinet during its weekly session.
The Saudi King offered condolences to the families of the girls who died in a stampede when they tried to flee after a fire broke out at their school on March 11. More than 50 others were injured.
The tragedy has sparked a rare political debate throughout the conservative Saudi kingdom. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, de facto ruler of the kingdom, Friday ordered a special "ministerial committee" headed by his half-brother and Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz to meet "urgently" to assess the situation.
On his part, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz also ordered an immediate investigation into the causes of the incident and the high death toll, vowing those responsible would be punished.
The intervention of the Saudi kingdom's top leaders followed a concerted campaign in the local press accusing top education officials of incompetence and corruption, with newspapers calling for resignations.
The campaign, rarely seen in the Saudi press, also pointed fingers at the religious police on grounds that they blocked rescue operations for fear of "exposing females to male strangers." (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)