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Haze crisis eases, Malaysia lifts state of emergency.

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug. 13 Kyodo

Malaysia on Saturday lifted a state of emergency declared over two provinces near the capital Kuala Lumpur after a change in wind direction blew away the haze that had been choking the area for the last two weeks.

But the Meteorological Department said the wind has blown pollutants from central Peninsular Malaysia to the northern states and cautioned that man-made fires in Indonesia's Sumatra and Riau provinces, the source of the haze, are still raging.

Malaysia has been experiencing its worst air pollution in eight years.

The government on Thursday imposed emergency rule in the two worst-hit regions: Port Klang, the country's biggest port city, some 50 kilometers northwest of Kuala Lumpur, and Kuala Selangor, a neighboring fishing village, renowned for its seafood and firefly colony that is a tourist attraction.

Schools and offices were closed, port operations were disrupted and masks sold hotcakes.

But the situation began to ease Friday.

By Saturday, the air pollution index in Port Klang had dropped from its emergency-trigger point of above 500 to 105 as of 11 a.m.

In Kuala Selangor, the API was 117, still unhealthy but better than the 529 recorded Thursday.

The National Security Division in the Prime Minister's Office announced that since the API in both areas have fallen below the 500 level, the emergency status has been lifted.

Under the index, a reading of 0-50 is classified as good, 51-100 moderate, 101-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy and above 300 hazardous.

Elsewhere, in Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, after two weeks of being blanketed by thick smelly smog, the sky was much clearer although the API readings were still at unhealthy levels of 103 and 101 respectively.

''It is the change in wind condition. Wind is now blowing from the southeast, so the haze has moved from Selangor state (where Port Klang and Kuala Selangor are located) to northern Perak and Penang,'' a Meteorological Department official told Kyodo News.

In Perak and Penang, a popular resort island, what was once clear, blue sky in the past weeks has turned hazy. Visibility in many places has dropped to 1 km or below.

The API reading has gone up to unhealthy level at above 100.

But for those in central Malaysia, the Meteorological Department official warned against complacency.

''A few days ago, it was the southwesterly (winds) that brought the haze here. If winds change direction again, haze may come back to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor because there are still hotspots and no rain in Sumatra,'' the official said.

The New Straits Times daily quoted the Plantation Enterprises and Commodities Minister Peter Chin as saying the fires in Indonesia were all detected coming from plantations and not forest.

He said fires on plantation land made up 30 percent of the hotspots detected and the rest were by the slash-and-burn practices used by farmers to clear land.

Chin had just returned from Jakarta on Friday after having met his counterpart to discuss the accusations that Malaysian-owned plantation companies were among the culprits behind the fire.

There has been a blame game of sorts going on between the two countries.

Malaysian media has stepped up its criticism with what has been perceived as Indonesia's lack of seriousness in tackling the issue that has become an annual affair.

''Enough is enough, Indonesia,'' a headline screamed in the Star daily Saturday.

''Malaysians are fed up with having to put up with this annual problem...Indonesia has to wake up to the fact that the forest fires have become an ASEAN problem, full stop,'' the paper said in its editorial.

While Indonesia has apportioned blame to Malaysian companies, the paper questioned why the Indonesian authorities are not taking any action against them.

Indonesian authorities on Friday singled out two Malaysian oil palm plantation companies involved in conducting open burning and threatened to charge them in court.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said he felt ''wretched'' that Malaysians were involved in sparking the haze crisis.

''They should know better. They should know that their actions would affect Malaysia, their own country,'' he said.

Chin told the New Strait Times he would meet with the heads of the 24 Malaysian plantation companies that are operating in Indonesia next week.

''I want to know how they conduct their operations there and about their subsidiaries,'' he said.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Aug 15, 2005
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