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Opponents Blast Malaysia Ban On Scientists’ Haze Talk

The government must rescind an order forbidding scientists from commenting on Malaysia’s haze problem, opposition leaders demanded Saturday.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government barred teachers and scientists in state universities Wednesday from speaking publicly on the haze because it said those comments were hurting tourism, Malaysia’s big foreign exchange earner.

“There cannot be a more short-sighted and self-defeating decision as the one made by the Cabinet,” said Lim Kit Siang, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party. The role of academicians as critics of society should be respected, he added.

Newspapers were also critical. “Censoring out the scientists might have an equally negative effect at home,” said an editorial in Saturday’s New Straits Times.

After several days of clear skies, the haze from thousands of forest fires in Indonesia has reappeared over parts of Malaysia and Singapore this week, forcing some flights to be canceled.

Malaysia and Indonesia announced Friday they would step up joint efforts to control the fires, which have now ignited underground peat and coal deposits.

U.S. military planes are also helping to fight the fires, dropping loads of water on the worst-hit areas.