Malaysia sends half a million face masks to haze-hit state, shuts schools

Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze, the state education department said. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2019

Malaysia sends half a million face masks to haze-hit state, shuts schools

  • Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze
  • Air pollution index reached unhealthy levels on Tuesday

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia sent half a million face masks to the eastern state of Sarawak and closed more than 400 schools there on Tuesday as a haze spread from forest fires in neighboring Indonesia, officials said.
Authorities in Singapore also said air conditions could reach unhealthy levels there over the next 24 hours if the wind kept bringing smoke from Indonesia, and advised anyone feeling unwell to seek medical attention.
Forest fires have raged through parts of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the province of Kalimantan on Borneo in recent weeks, forcing the government to send in thousands of military and police to douse the flames.
Indonesia’s neighbors have regularly complained about smog caused by its forest blazes — often started by farmers trying to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations.
Authorities closed 409 schools in Sarawak, on the Malaysian side of Borneo, on Tuesday due to haze, the state education department said.
Malaysia’s national disaster management agency (NADMA) said it had sent 500,000 face masks to the state, after the air pollution index reached unhealthy levels on Tuesday.
One Sarawak district saw a “very unhealthy” pollution level of 201, while unhealthy readings were seen in five other Malaysian states on the country’s peninsular, the agency said.
Southeast Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smoke caused by Indonesian farmers’ slash-and-burn practices, raising worries about health and the impact on tourism.
Indonesia last week said it had detected haze crossing over from Kalimantan in Borneo to the Malaysian side on the island.
But on Tuesday, its climate agency disputed findings by Malaysia and Singapore that the countries were also seeing smog from fires on Sumatra island.
“As for transboundary haze, there has been none detected from the area of Sumatra toward the Malaysian peninsula,” the climate agency said. It added that signs of forest fires were also spotted in Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, East Timor and Thailand.
Singapore recorded slightly hazy conditions on Tuesday due to persistent fires in Sumatra’s Riau and Jambi provinces, the country’s national environment agency said.
“Given the air quality forecast for the next 24 hours, healthy persons should reduce prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical exertion,” the agency said.
“Persons who are not feeling well, especially the elderly and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions, should seek medical attention,” it added.


India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.