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Bus driver held as 15 pupils killed

A bus taking primary school pupils home has slipped off a country road into an irrigation ditch in eastern China, killing 15 children and highlighting continuing safety problems in the country's school transport system.

Workers at a nearby factory heard cries for help and rushed to the overturned bus, broke open the windows and began pulling children out.

At least 15 children died and eight others were injured, one of them seriously, said a spokesman for the Jiangsu provincial government. The official Xinhua News Agency said the bus was carrying 29 students and was designed for 52 people, so was not overloaded.

The accident occurred on Monday evening as the bus was travelling along a rural highway outside the city of Xuzhou in the province's north. News reports said it careered off the road after swerving to avoid a pedicab.

Xinhua said the driver had been detained for investigation.

"My husband ... used one hand to grab two or three (children) and the other to grab another two or three," said the wife of Tian Shengwei, who owns a nearby food processing factory.

"The water was not very deep, probably more than a metre or so, up to an adult's waist, but it was deep enough to drown some of the children," said Tian's wife, Zhang. "We tried so hard and cracked open one of the windows and started to pull the kids out. It was freezing cold," she said.

She added that the children ranged in age from six to about 14.

The crash came amid an emotional national discussion over the poor condition of Chinese school buses and chronic underfunding of state schools, particularly in rural areas which have lagged far behind cities over the past three decades of rapid economic development.

On Monday, a school bus was hit by a truck in southern Guangdong province, injuring 37 of the 59 students on board, Xinhua reported. Police detained the two drivers. Last month, 19 children and two adults were killed when a nine-seat private nursery school van packed with 62 students crashed head-on with a truck in north-west Gansu province.

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