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Smog-shrouded Malaysia shuts schools for two days

Published 05/10/2015

The Blue Mosque slightly obscured by haze caused by the burning of forests in Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands (AP)
The Blue Mosque slightly obscured by haze caused by the burning of forests in Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands (AP)

Malaysia shut most schools nationwide for two days to protect children from a thick, noxious haze caused by smoke from burning forests in neighbouring Indonesia.

The haze, which has shrouded parts of Malaysia and Singapore for about a month, also spread to Thailand, the first time it has reached so far north.

It highlights the regional nature of a problem that is being blamed on Indonesia's inability to prevent big plantation companies from burning forests to clear land for new trees.

The air pollutant index hit the hazardous level in Shah Alam, the capital of Malaysia's central Selangor state, and was very unhealthy in many other areas.

That prompted the authorities to order the closure of 7,000 schools today and on Tuesday.

The poor visibility forced several airports to be closed for hours on Sunday. A popular annual marathon in Kuala Lumpur was also cancelled.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi said Indonesia's efforts to crack down on the sources of open burning by farmers were not enough.

He said Indonesia should seek more help from its south-east Asian neighbours to tackle the haze, which is an annual problem.

The forest fires that cause the haze have been an annual occurrence since the late 1990s.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced stricter punishment for those engaged in open burning, but said his government would need three years to solve the problem. The offenders are mostly palm oil plantations, as well as pulp and paper companies.

Malaysia's national news agency, Bernama, quoted Mr Zahid as saying that Malaysia welcomes the measures announced by Mr Widodo, but that "three years is too long".

Mr Zahid said: "We hope its commitment is not only on paper or mere statements pleasant to the ears, but through implementation which could end all haze problems."

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