Boy killed, over 400 hurt in Philippine revelry

Celebratory gunfire killed a four-year-old boy and more than 400 others were injured by powerful firecrackers in typically rowdy New Year celebrations in the Philippines, according to officials.

A bullet hit the boy in the back as he was playing outside his home in Manila's suburban Mandaluyong district, said the city's police chief Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina.

He said police are trying to trace the gun owner but admitted it may take time in a country where unlicensed firearms are widespread.

"We caught 10 people firing indiscriminately, most of them were private security guards who were drunk," he said over DZBB radio.

Espina said policemen found to have fired their guns to usher in the New Year would also be disciplined.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said 404 people nationwide were either burned or maimed by firecrackers, about half of them young children. "Some of the injuries were serious and could lead to lifelong disabilities," he said.

Among them was a teenage boy whose hand had to be amputated.

"He picked up what he thought was an unlit firecracker left on the road. It exploded in his hand," the boy's mother, Mariel Lou Pateno, said at the packed trauma section of one Manila government hospital.

"We hope the numbers will not rise but we are expecting more to arrive within the day," Alfonso Nunez, one of the doctors at the hospital who worked through the night, told reporters.

An AFP photographer saw two men in their 50s in hospital with burns to the eyes and face due to firecrackers.

The capital's fire department said 12 blazes were reported overnight, including a school that caught fire due to fireworks near a sprawling slum area. No one was injured although dozens of families were left homeless.

It is a tradition in the mostly Catholic nation of about 100 million to greet the New Year by making noise, in a belief it will drive bad spirits away.

However hundreds are hurt annually by firecrackers and stray bullets, despite strict orders from President Benigno Aquino for police to clamp down on guns and ban powerful firecrackers.

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