Fri, Jan 02, 2009 - Page 5 News List

New Year’s injuries down in Philippines

ECONOMIC EFFECT The government attributes the decrease in fireworks injuries to the economic downturn, with fewer people willing to fork out money for firecrackers

AGENCIES , MANILA AND ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES

A light rain and the economic crunch dampened the normally boisterous New Year’s Eve revelry in the Philippines, causing a drop in injuries involving firecrackers, Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque said yesterday.

Duque said a government scare campaign, which showed him brandishing a surgical saw on TV to warn would-be victims of possible amputation, also helped bring down the number of people injured by powerful firecrackers to 346, including 181 who were hurt around midnight on Wednesday.

Police reported at least two deaths caused by firecracker explosions but Duque said health officials were still trying to verify the report.

Last year, 434 people were injured by firecracker blasts on and before New Year’s Eve, he said.

Two low pressure areas off the country’s eastern coast brought rains and drizzle to Manila and surrounding provinces late on Wednesday, forcing many to stay indoors and raining out street parties.

Firecracker blasts still thundered across the capital and lit the night sky but were brief compared to the long, frenzied celebrations in previous years.

The economic crunch also kept Filipinos from splurging on firecrackers, Duque said.

“The worsening global economic condition could also very well explain the low figures recorded,” Duque told a news conference.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune.

But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.

Meanwhile, 22 people were wounded by a grenade lobbed into a crowd of New Year revelers, the latest in a spate of blasts in the restive south, the army said yesterday.

In Manila and in nearby suburban areas, a child was killed by a stray bullet, the police and the health department said.

Army Captain Emmanuel Garcia, head of a military security task force, said an unidentified man threw the grenade into the crowd at a park in the city of General Santos on Mindanao island late on Wednesday.

“At least 22 people are wounded in the grenade explosion and they have been rushed to hospitals,” he said.

No one has claimed responsibility and Garcia said authorities were investigating.

However, security forces have been on heightened alert for possible attacks by Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who have been locked in intense battles with troops in the south since August.

In Zamboanga city, also in the south, police early yesterday disarmed a powerful homemade bomb left near a bus depot, the military said.

The device was made from an 81mm mortar bomb and rigged to a timing device, similar to previous bombs used by MILF, it said.

A grenade attack on Tuesday on a police outpost in General Santos wounded a policeman and two other people.

The same day, a suspected militant was killed when the improvised explosive device he was carrying went off at a police checkpoint near the town of Esperanza, also on Mindanao.

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