Malaysia fiercely polluted claims emergency state

Malaysia declared a state of emergency Thursday as the air pollution index rose to extremely hazardous levels on the west coast, which has been worst-hit by smoke from fires in Sumatra.

Air quality readings taken in two cities showed pollution markers to be above the emergency level of 500.

The haze has prompted hundreds of schools to shut, as well as disrupting airports and busy shipping lanes, BBC informs.

Malaysian and Indonesian officials met to discuss the fires, which are an annual problem as poor farmers on Sumatra use fire to clear land for planting.

"We are now in a state of emergency," a National Security Council official told Agence France-Presse after the environment department said the air pollution index had reached 529 in Port Klang and 531 in Kuala Selangor.

The opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) said Malaysians are 'furious and worried' about the pollution and added it will stage a protest at the Indonesian embassy tomorrow, as well as a public rally on Sunday.

"As the source of haze is in Sumatra, Malaysians are powerless to do anything to fight this threat to their and our children's health and safety, unless Indonesia is serious about taking action," DAP leader Lim Kit Siang was quoted as saying by Forbes.

Lim said that recent apologies from Indonesian leaders are meaningless unless they are followed up by concrete action to douse the fires on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and prevent them from recurring.

"Malaysians want an explanation why the Indonesian government cannot stop the haze from becoming a tragic annual event," he said.

But Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar indicated Malaysia will take a softly-softly approach, in order not to damage the fragile relationship with its neighbor.

"We cannot. In the interests of neighbourly relations, we must sit down and discuss and consult. This is the common interest," he said, adding that crisis talks between ministers from both sides would begin in Jakarta tomorrow.

"We have no other alternative, we cannot go into an open conflict, that will not be good for the region. That will not be good in terms of our relationship. So that is not the way that Malaysia will adopt," he said at a news conference.

The Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia was badly affected, forcing a major port facility to suspend operations yesterday, although a slight easing in conditions allowed them to resume later that night, officials said.

Meteorology Department senior forecaster Kamil Ibrahim said the conditions are expected to persist for the next few days, but that there could be a brief respite next week as the winds coming from Sumatra shift, according to Forbes.

However, Indonesian officials have warned that the fires, started illegally to clear land on Sumatra and Kalimantan, will worsen in coming weeks.

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