Philippines braces for bloody New Year celebrations

MANILA, Dec 30, 2012 (AFP) -The Philippines braced Sunday for its annual orgy of New Year's Eve merrymaking which leaves hundreds of people maimed by firecrackers or shot by bullets fired in the air by armed revellers.
A total of 164 people have been injured by fireworks since the Christmas weekend, half of them in Manila, while one person was wounded by a stray bullet, according to the health department.
President Benigno Aquino interrupted his Christmas holidays to meet with emergency services officials on government preparations for mass casualties, fires, and other potential mayhem from the often drunken revelry.
The government reported 454 firecracker-related injuries from hospitals across the country as 2012 was welcomed, many of them children and drunk adults who ignored government warnings.
At a meeting aired on national television Sunday, Aquino expressed concern over the sale of oversized firecrackers, and chastised officials at the meeting for failing to shut down factories and retailers making and selling them.
"If you tossed that onto the road, would it damage the road as well?" he asked, interrupting a slide show on a frame that dealt with a giant 58-square-centimetre (nine-square-inch) firecracker called "Goodbye Philippines".
Aquino was told it would, before saying that the noisy celebrations were therefore also responsible for damaging government property.
Individual fireworks containing not more than 0.2 grammes (0.007 ounces) of explosive material are allowed by law, but police told the meeting they had seized 11.9 million pesos' ($29,000) worth of illegal fireworks.
"Please direct the (local government units) to explain how such a store can be selling regulated items without the necessary permits," an apparently irritated Aquino said.
"How come we're filing cases (for the illegal sale of firecrackers) but we've not been shutting down the stores selling them?" the president added.
The fire services representative at the meeting, metropolitan Manila fire inspector Renato Marcial, said firecrackers have triggered three blazes so far in the current Christmas holidays, compared to eight last year.
"The Bureau of Fire Protection would like to appeal for a ban on firecrackers," Marcial told Aquino.

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