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Tragedy in Thailand Mars New Year Celebrations in Asia


At least 59 people were killed and more than 200 injured in a New Year's Eve nightclub fire in Bangkok, as the rest of Asia welcomed 2009 with subdued celebrations.

Thousands of Thais bid farewell to a politically tumultuous 2008 outside a mall in downtown Bangkok. But minutes after welcoming the new year, firefighters battled flames and rescuers scrambled to pull people from a burning nightclub in another part of town.

Club Santika, popular with young Thais and tourists, was gutted. Inside, charred shoes and personal belongings were scattered near a staircase as scores of clubgoers rushed to escape the flames. Officials say the fire may have started from fireworks used in the New Year's party, called "Goodbye Santika".

Officials said many of the victims died from severe burns, suffocation and from the stampede. Officials said the club had only one door for the public.

Thai Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga surveyed the damage Thursday and told VOA the government will file charges against those responsible for the tragedy.

"We are going with our investigation. I will look after the investigation because it is about the reputation of our country," said Pirapan. "I heard a lot of foreigners died and injured."

Tragedy struck too in the Philippines, where at least 22 people were injured in a grenade blast in a park in General Santos city. Around the country, nearly 300 people were injured by exploding firecrackers, a common incidence in the Philippines during the New Year celebrations. On New Year's Eve, the country's health secretary went on TV brandishing a surgical saw to warn against possible amputations resulting from such injuries.

Security was tightened in India, following the Mumbai terrorist attacks last month that killed more than 170 people.

Things were calm in Beijing, where state TV carried a New Year's concert. The Chinese mark the Lunar New Year later this month.

In Sydney, more than a million people flocked to see fireworks over Sydney Bridge. Hong Kong also greeted 2009 with fireworks over Victoria Harbor, but as in other cities in Asia, celebrations were subdued compared with previous years because of the global economic slump. Many people in the region are bracing for job cuts because local economies are expected to contract this year.

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