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Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Fireworks fatality
marred New Year’s

Bullet The issue: An 80-year-old woman died in her home in a fire caused by aerial fireworks.

Bullet Our view: The fatality demonstrated the need for stricter enforcement of fireworks restrictions.

THE death of an 80-year-old woman in her Palolo home, the victim of illegal aerial fireworks, was grim evidence that Hawaii has a long way to go in dealing with its fireworks problem.

The victim died in one of three house fires that caused more than $400,000 in damage to homes in Palolo, Aiea and Waianae on New Year's Eve. Two families were left homeless. On Saturday a blaze did an estimated $20,000 damage to an Ewa Beach home.

Aerial fireworks are already illegal, but clearly more effort is needed to enforce the law -- by arresting and prosecuting importers and dealers as well as users.

In addition, a Maui man lost the fingers on his left hand and sustained injury to his left eye Friday night when a homemade fireworks display exploded.

Injury and even death are a constant hazard in fireworks use. Last year a Waialua man died of head injuries after a homemade fireworks device exploded and a Kailua high school student lost an eye.

Despite these problems, a new law requiring payment of a $25 fee for permits to purchase a string of 5,000 firecrackers seemed to be effective in cutting back fireworks use, resulting in less smoke and noise in the hours leading up to the new year.

Governor Cayetano had called for a total ban on fireworks but the Legislature wasn't willing to go that far.

One of the few arrests this year involved a 39-year-old Pearl City man for storing 1,800 pounds of fireworks at his home.

A Honolulu Fire Department spokesman said the law may need to be revised to deal with a black market for aerial fireworks in view of the number of house fires. However, he said that in other respects the situation was improved this year, probably because the permit system discouraged large-scale purchases.

The operator of five fireworks stores on Oahu said there was a 60 to 70 percent drop in the amount of fireworks shipped legally into the state. He said this in part was due to a major increase last year in connection with the millennium celebration, but the permit fee requirement was also a factor.

THE New Year's Eve fatality and property damage demonstrated that much remains to be done to make New Year's Eve safe from fireworks-related hazards. Aerial firecrackers are a menace, but they are not the only dangerous devices.

People who claim a right to unrestricted use of fireworks on cultural grounds are foolishly willing to endanger themselves and their neighbors.

However, except for the fire and accident victims, this New Year's Eve was an improvement in terms of less smoke and noise. We hope that continues, while police crack down harder on the aerial fireworks problem.

Bombs shake Manila
confidence in regime

Bullet The issue: Fourteen people have been killed and more than 100 injured in a wave of bombings in the Manila area.

Bullet Our view: The explosions caught government officials distracted by the impeachment proceedings against President Joseph Estrada.

THERE is no shortage of theories about who caused the bombings that killed 14 people and injured more than 100 in the Manila area Saturday, but no solid information. Speculation ranged from Muslim insurgents in the southern islands to Maoist rebels to unnamed right-wing groups to the government itself -- the latter based on the theory that President Joseph Estrada might have been seeking a pretext to declare martial law and establish a dictatorship, as former President Ferdinand Marcos did in 1972.

Estrada, who is undergoing a trial by the Senate on corruption charges after having been impeached by the House of Representatives, denied any intention to declare martial law.

Although the Muslim and Communist rebellions have resulted in thousands of casualties, most bombing incidents have occurred in Mindanao, hundreds of miles south of Manila. The outbreak of terrorism in the capital area adds an unnerving factor to an already volatile political situation.

The capital has been in turmoil for months following an accusation by one of Estrada's political allies and drinking buddies that the president had taken millions of dollars in bribes from an illegal gambling operation. The disclosure set off an eruption of protests and calls for Estrada's resignation, which led to the attempt to remove him from office through impeachment.

Earlier last year the government tried in vain to negotiate the release of foreigners held hostage in the southern island of Jolo by a band of Muslim insurgents. In the end Estrada ordered the army to attack the rebels. Most of the hostages were rescued, but two bands of Muslim rebels continue to operate.

The ranks of the Maoist New People's Army have been decimated since the overthrow of the Marcos regime, in which it played no part, but the Communists may still be capable of such terrorist attacks.

The corruption scandal has weakened Estrada's position to the point that confidence in his leadership has virtually disappeared. Even if the president survived the impeachment process, popular protests could force him to resign. Analysts insist that the country's economic problems will persist until he steps down.

Now comes this wave of bombings. The government must somehow show the people that it is capable of handling the problem. Otherwise public confidence could fall to unparalleled depths, with devastating consequences.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin