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. Greens See Red Over A Thousand Hindu Fires In India

An Indian Hindu woman takes part in an Aswamedh Yagya - (horse sacrifice) - offering in front of Kundas - (holy fire place) - in Kolkata, 15 November 2006. Photo courtesy of Deshakalyan Chowdhury and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kolkata (AFP) India, Nov 17, 2006
Hindus in eastern India Friday started more than a thousand fires in a mass ancient ritual that organisers said would help "fight diseases", but activists warned of environmental damage. Hundreds of priests chanted verses from Hindu scriptures and tonnes of wood and herbs were poured into more than a thousand pits for the mass "yagna" or a fire ceremony to please gods on the outskirts of eastern Kolkata city.

"The sacred fire and smoke from the burnt wood will strengthen the ozone layer and ward off diseases like malaria and dengue," said Pashupatinath Mishra, secretary of Gayatri Janakalyan Kendra group, which organised the ceremony.

Mishra said more than six tonnes of sandalwood and herbs would be burnt in 1009 pits in three days beginning Friday amid the chanting of sacred verses.

"The smoke will kill mosquitoes and other harmful insects and cure people suffering from dengue and malaria," Mishra said.

Environmentalists said the smoke would further damage the ozone layer and asked the High Court of West Bengal state, of which Kolkata is the capital, to stop the ceremony.

The court, however, said there was no law to prevent such a ceremony.

"Such foolish acts will weaken the ozone layer," said activist Subhas Dutta, who filed the court petition. "The madness must be stopped."

Mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fevers are prevalent during the country's rainy season. An outbreak of dengue has claimed 175 lives this year and nearly 10,000 people were afflicted with the virus.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Beijingers Told To Stay Indoors As Smog Hangs Over North China
Beijing (AFP) Nov 20, 2006
Beijing residents were warned Monday to stay indoors due to high pollution levels, as a blanket of heavy smog across northern China caused traffic chaos and delayed flights throughout the region. "Under these weather conditions it is better to reduce outdoor activities especially in areas where pollutants are concentrated such as where traffic is heavy," the Beijing environmental protection bureau said on its website.

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