Seven drown on school trip
Seven schoolchildren drowned while swimming in the sea during a picnic near Ho Chi Minh City, police said yesterday. The school trip ended in tragedy on Sunday after the children were swept out to sea by strong waves at Can Gio Neach, a coastal area on the outskirts of the city. “The last bodies were found early Monday morning,” a Can Gio District policeman told reporters. According to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper, the children, aged 12 to 14 years old, were part of a group of nearly 100 students attending the picnic organized by the Nguyen Binh Khiem Upper Secondary School in Binh Duong Province. “Most of them could swim well,” a teacher who was escorting the group was quoted as saying by Tuoi Tre. “Suddenly, the wave became big, pulling the kids away from the shore. Four of them swam back to ask for help, but rescue canoes were not immediately available.” Drowning is one of the main causes of child deaths in the nation, with about 3,500 children drowning each year, Tuoi Tre figures show.
Official warns on toxic land
About 3.33 million hectares of farmland is too polluted to grow crops, a government official said yesterday, highlighting the risk facing agriculture after three decades of rapid industrial growth. The country has been under pressure to improve its urban environment following a spate of pollution scares, but cleaning up rural regions could be an even bigger challenge as the government tries to reverse damage done by years of urban and industrial encroachment and ensure food supplies for a growing population. The area of contaminated land is about the same size as Belgium. The official said no more planting would be allowed on it as the government was determined to prevent toxic metals entering the food chain. A government land survey revealed traces of toxic metals dating back at least a century, as well as pesticides banned in the 1980s, and state researchers have said that as much as 70 percent of soil may have problems.
Bombs near Musharraf home
Police yesterday found explosives on a road close to the home of former president Pervez Musharraf, two days before he is to appear at a treason tribunal. The 2.5kg of explosives and two detonators were found about 2km from the retired general’s home on the edge of Islamabad. The discovery was made close to where 5kg of explosives were found last Tuesday, as Musharraf’s treason trial was due to start. The case was adjourned to tomorrow because of the security alert. Musharraf said on Sunday he had not yet decided whether to attend the hearing, denouncing the case as a “vendetta” against him and saying he had the backing of the powerful army.
Railway workers end strike
Thousands of railway workers yesterday agreed to end a three-week partial strike after lawmakers vowed to reflect their opinions in the government’s plan to reorganize railway services. More than 6,000 unionized workers of the Korea Railway (Korail) — about one-third of the firm’s entire staff — had been on a strike since Dec. 9 in protest at the management overhaul plan they feared would spark mass layoffs and pay cuts. The government this month announced the plan to spin off part of Korail and allow other state-run firms to buy shares in it. It said the move was aimed at revitalizing the debt-ridden railway, but thousands of workers suspect it is a prelude to privatization.