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13 bus crash victims in Spain all women; 7 of them Italian

MADRID — The 13 exchange students killed in a bus crash in northeastern Spain this weekend were all women from other countries, including seven from Italy, a Catalan regional government official said Monday.

The other six included two Germans, an Austrian, a French woman, a Romanian and an Uzbekistani, interior department director Jordi Jane said. Jane told reporters the victims were aged between 19 and 25.

The bus carrying 57 university students crashed Sunday near Freginals, halfway between the eastern coastal cities of Barcelona and Valencia. They were returning from a firework festival in Valencia.

The students were studying in Barcelona as part of the Erasmus exchange program. Regional politicians joined Barcelona University staff for five minutes of silence at noon in memory of the students.

Pope Francis sent a condolence message to the local bishop in Spain, saying he was "strongly pained" after learning of the tragedy, the Vatican said Monday. Francis said families of the dead had suffered an "unreplaceable loss" and he offered prayers for the victims and wishes for a speedy recovery for the injured.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said in a tweet Sunday that his heart was "broken for the Italian victims and for the other young lives destroyed."

Catalonia's health department said 23 passengers and the driver were being treated in hospital for injuries. It said one passenger was in critical condition and six people, including the driver, were in serious condition.

Jane said the bus driver was being investigated for possible negligent homicide. The driver was initially reported to have been uninjured, but was taken to a hospital in the town of Tortosa late Sunday with lung problems.

He had been due to appear before a judge on Monday, but the session was postponed.

Officials said road conditions were good at the time of the crash and the driver later passed alcohol and drug tests.

The Erasmus program provides foreign exchange courses for students, mostly from the 28-nation European Union.

Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.