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Indonesian haze triggers airport closure, impatience from president

Jakarta - Worsening haze from forest and brush fires on Indonesia's Sumatra island forced the closure of an international airport, officials said Friday.

Smog pollution reached hazardous levels in the island’s Riau province in the past few days, and has been linked to respiratory and skin problems in about 60,000 people, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

The Sultan Syarif Kasim airport in Riau capital Pekanbaru has been closed until Saturday, he said. Sixteen local and regional airlines serve the airport.

Authorities in Riau have ordered schools to close and urged residents to stay indoors, with pollution index screens in Pekanbaru displaying "Dangerous" in red.

"Since the past week pollution has been very bad and even colleges are closed," said Syamsidar, a Pekanbaru resident.

"People are still seen on the streets but they are all wearing masks," she said.

Nugroho said parts of West Sumatra were also severely affected by the haze, some of which came from Malaysia, he added.

Attempts to extinguish the forest fires on Sumatra using aircraft water bombings and cloud seeding have not been successful.

Amid growing criticism of the response to the haze, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged local authorities to intensify their fire-fighting efforts.

"Tonight I instructed related ministries to conduct emergency operations using all means at their disposal," Yudhoyono said on his official Twitter account late Thursday.

"I want authorities in Riau to be at the forefront of the efforts to prevent and stop the haze," he said. "Why does this thing keep happening at the expense of the people?"

He said he would take over the emergency response if local authorities were not able to bring the fires under control in the next day or two.

DPA


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