Published: Thursday 31 March 2005

Hundreds of forest fires in the dry jungles of Malaysia, Indonesia's Sumatra island and Singapore have put a thick blanket of smoke over many Southeast Asian cities. Although a little less in intensity than the haze that covered the region nearly a decade ago, this dark cloud has its share of ill effects. It has triggered official warnings about acute increase in air pollution levels in many parts of Malaysia. Schools have been closed in Sumatra, where flight delays have also become common. The governments of many cities have directed people to not light fires or throw away cigarette butts. "The public has to be careful," Malaysian prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said. The smoke is so thick in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur that the horizon is not visible even from towers. Fire fighters are fighting a tough battle to douse the forest blazes. The situation is similar in Indonesia's Riau province, north Sumatra and Aceh province.

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