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Chinese astronauts Liu Boming (R), Zhai Zhigang (C) and Jing Haipeng salute outside the re-entry capsule of the Shenzhou VII after it landed in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region September 28, 2008.
Chinese astronauts Liu Boming (R), Zhai Zhigang (C) and Jing Haipeng salute outside the re-entry capsule of the Shenzhou VII after it landed in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region September 28, 2008.

Fire hits Egypt's National Theatre

A fire destroys the main hall of Egypt's National Theatre in the heart of the downtown Cairo, injuring three firemen.

CAIRO // A fire destroyed the main hall of Egypt's National Theatre in the heart of the downtown Cairo yesterday, injuring three firemen, a civil defence officer said. Billowing white smoke filled the busy Ataba Square as 22 engines responded to the alarms. Dozens of riot police were also deployed to keep back onlookers. A major general with the civil defence on the scene described the fire as "almost contained," after high winds briefly drove flames into neighbouring shops and buildings. Three firemen were hospitalised for smoke inhalation. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. Brig Gen Nasr Zakaria of the civil defence operations room said the fire began with an electrical short that caused an explosion in the theatre's air conditioning system. The fire started just before iftar while workers were performing maintenance on the theatre's electrical systems. "There was a big blast, then smoke started rising from the roof," said Mahmoud Osman, the owner of a shop across the square. "Then flames engulfed the whole roof area and damaged parts of the wall." The theatre was original built in 1935, but had been recently renovated. The building would have been practically deserted due to the evening meal, but was scheduled to perform popular poetry recitations later on that night. In August, Egypt's upper house of parliament was devastated by massive fire, also in the downtown area. That fire provoked popular outrage at the incompetence of firemen and it was described as the latest failing of a government unable to take care of its population or stem the rising prices of foodstuffs. Press reports at the time focused on poor training of firemen and the absence of sprinklers or a fire management plan for the building - features which are rare throughout Egypt, where safety rules are nonexistent or lax. Few buildings in Cairo even have smoke alarms. * AP

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