Pakistan Parliament Burns
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Fire roared through Pakistan’s empty parliament building today, destroying the main chamber and sending flames streaking into the night sky.
Three firefighters were hurt battling the blaze, which was still out of control three hours after it began in the National Assembly Building, assembly speaker Yousaf Gilani said.
State-run television said an electrical short circuit was believed to be the cause of the fire, which apparently started in the press gallery above the assembly floor.
But Sen. Iqbal Haider, who was at the scene, said arson and other causes should not be ruled out.
″This is not a mere circuit-breaker fire, not to the extent of the damage that I have seen,″ he said.
Flames jumped from the roof and thick plumes of white and gray smoke billowed into the air hours after the late afternoon fire broke out.
There appeared to be a shortage of firefighting equipment to battle the blaze. There were no fire hydrants visible near the building and most firemen appeared to be relying on water brought to the scene in trucks.
A number of the ancient trucks struggled to make it up a small hill to reach the modern, six-story parliament building.
Hundreds of onlookers gathered across the street from parliament while dozens of police guarded the gates surrounding the building.
Today was a holiday in Pakistan and parliament was not in session. It has met only a few times since last month’s national election brought Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan People’s Party to power.
Pakistan’s president is to be chosen Saturday by members of parliament and the four provincial legislatures, and officials said the balloting would go ahead as planned.
The whitewashed building was the work of American architect Edward Durrell Stone, the man who designed the Kennedy Center in Washington, and the two structures bear a strong resemblance.