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June 21, 2013

Indonesia Deploys Aircraft to Fight Fires as Haze Spreads

by VOA News

Indonesia is deploying helicopters to help battle raging fires that have choked Singapore with a record-setting thick haze of smoke for a third consecutive day.

Along with water-bombing the out-of-control fires, aircraft will also be used in the coming days to seed clouds in a desperate attempt to create rain to douse the flames.

Singapore's air pollution standards index soared to another record high Friday afternoon, reaching a level that can severely harm people with respiratory problems. Parts of nearby Malaysia have also suffered from the extreme air pollution.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Thursday the haze that began afflicting the city-state Monday could persist until the end of the dry season on Indonesia's Sumatra Island in September or October.

Singapore's National Environment Agency chief Andrew Tan has called on Indonesia to take "decisive action" against companies suspected of burning forests on Sumatra as a cheap way of clearing land.

However, Indonesian Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono criticized Singapore's reaction to the haze, accusing the city-state of acting like a "child."

Some residents wore face masks as they walked to and from work, but many stores sold out of the items, leaving other people to cover their mouths with handkerchiefs or tissues.

The smell of burned wood was so strong that it even permeated the city's underground train system. Many Singaporeans chose to stay at home and use social media to air their complaints about Indonesia's role in the smog.

Indonesia has defended its response, saying it is investigating companies suspected of setting the fires and trying to educate plantation owners about alternatives to traditional burning methods.
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