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Egyptian Parliament building damaged by fire

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Associated Press / August 20, 2008
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CAIRO - Fire ravaged a 19th century palace used by the upper house of Egypt's parliament yesterday, and helicopters scooped water from the Nile River to help douse the blaze.

Flames soared from the top floor of the three-story building, and much of the interior was heavily damaged. While firefighters focused on one corner of the building, the blaze intensified on another, spreading to the second floor with periodic explosions and showers of sparks.

Smoke billowed over downtown Cairo, and rush hour traffic was disrupted by the dozens of fire trucks and ambulances that rushed to the scene. Two helicopters carried containers of water from the Nile and dumped them on the fire.

There was no official word on the cause. Employees who fled the building said authorities told them they had ruled out terrorism, and that a short-circuit had probably sparked the fire.

At least 16 workers and firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation and minor burns, officials said.

Parliament's archive room, library, and several large meeting chambers were all destroyed. Firefighters doused surrounding buildings with water to prevent them from igniting, but flames continued to rage past midnight.

Egypt's upper house of parliament or Shura Council is a largely symbolic body that can only advise on legislation. A third of its members are appointed by the president.

Riot police put up a cordon outside the parliament complex. The building is on a downtown street, near the American University in Cairo and several Western embassies.

Hundreds of tourists and residents stopped to snap photographs with cellphone cameras.

Egypt requires some fire-safety measures in buildings, including fire extinguishers, but in general the rules are not strictly enforced.

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