AQTOBE, Kazakhstan -- A trial is under way in Kazakhstan against five men charged with being responsible for a bus fire in an isolated northwestern part of the country that killed 52 Uzbek citizens in January.
The defendants, all Kazakh citizens, pleaded not guilty late on September 3 at the start of the trial in the city of Aqtobe.
Three drivers of the bus were charged with involuntary manslaughter and violating fire-safety regulations in vehicles.
The two other defendants are employees of Asia Transit Service, a company based in southern Kazakhstan that owned the bus.
They were charged with using a technically unfit vehicle for commercial purposes.
One of the company employees, a low-level manager, also has been charged with negligence and forging documents.
The fire occurred in the northwestern region of Aqtobe on January 18 as the bus was en route from the southern Kazakh city of Shymkent to the Russian city of Samara.
Investigators later determined the cause of the fire was an open flame on a portable gas cooker that was being used by passengers for heat during the long journey.
Officials have said the bus was a 29-year-old German-built Setra that did not have a license to transport passengers.
Authorities also said the vehicle's technical safety certificate had expired in 2016.
Many migrant workers from Uzbekistan travel to Russia along several lengthy routes passing through Kazakhstan.