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20 reported dead in German bus accident
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    HANNOVER, Germany — A tour bus caught fire on a highway near the northern German city of Hannover on Tuesday night, killing 20 people, after a passenger reportedly sneaked a cigarette, police said.
    Many of the dead were elderly people who apparently could not get out before the bus was engulfed in flames.
    Survivors told authorities the fire broke out in the bathroom of the bus as it drove down the A2 Autobahn (highway) after a person smoked a cigarette there, police spokesman Stefan Wittke said.
    Still, he said it was too early to rule out a mechanical problem with the bus as the cause of the blaze that also injured at least 13 people. Three of the injured had serious burns, according to one firefighter.
    The bus had 39 primarily elderly passengers and the driver aboard, according to the Hannover-based company Mommeyer that owns it. Wittke, however, said 33 people were aboard the bus. It was not possible to immediately reconcile the difference.
    A tour group had chartered the bus for a day trip from Hannover to a farm, Uwe Prehn, the husband of the bus company owner, told The Associated Press by telephone.
    The bus was on its way back to Hannover when the fire broke out at 8:45 p.m. (1945 GMT, 2:45 p.m. EST).
    Bild newspaper posted a picture of the scorched wreckage of the bus, its back window blown out, at the side of the road with firefighters nearby.
    The bus apparently pulled off into an emergency lane before it was engulfed in flames, but many people were unable to get off in time, Bild reported on its Web site.