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Hundreds hurt in New Year’s parties in Philippines

    A Filipino boy lifts his bandaged hand as he is treated for injuries from a firecracker explosion at the East Avenue Medical Center in suburban Quezon city, north of Manila, Philippines on Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013. Despite a ban by authorities on certain firecrackers due to injuries and death, many Filipinos still welcome the New Year with fireworks in the belief that it will drive away evil spirits and bring in good luck. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines » More than 400 people were hurt by powerful firecrackers and gunfire in New Year ‘s Eve celebrations in the Philippines, down 17 percent from a year earlier but still high enough to make it one of Asia’s most violent parties to welcome 2013.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona said today that the 413 wounded and hurt included a child who was hit in the head by a stray bullet fired by an unidentified person at the height of New Year’s revelry in suburban Caloocan city in metropolitan Manila. The 7-year-old girl is fighting for her life.

"The bullet’s still embedded in her head," Ona told a news conference. "It looks like she may not be saved."

Police said another child was accidentally hit by a shell fired by a homemade shotgun and died during celebrations in Mandaluyong city, also in the Manila region, but health officials said they have not received the details of the incident and could not immediately include the death in their casualty list.

Ona said the 17 percent drop in gunshot wounds and firecracker injuries "is still not enough." As an example, he said one man had his hand blown off in an accident while lighting a huge, prohibited firecracker called "Goodbye Philippines," while at least eight people were hit by celebratory gunfire.

Many Filipinos, largely influenced by Chinese tradition, believe that noisy New Year’s celebrations drive away evil and misfortune. But they have carried that superstition to extremes, exploding huge firecrackers and firing guns to welcome the new year despite threats of arrest.

Although the number of injuries has tapered off in recent years, largely due to hard economic times and government scare campaigns, the figures remain alarming.

The scare campaigns include television advertisements with doctors displaying brutal-looking surgical saws and cleavers used in amputating hands and fingers of firecracker blast victims. Also in December, a top health official danced in schools and other public areas to South Korean rapper PSY’s Youtube hit "Gangnam Style" to get attention and preach against firecracker use, especially by children.

The large number of firecracker injuries came despite the arrests of more than 300 vendors and users of illegally large firecrackers in Manila and elsewhere ahead of New Year’s Eve.

The crackdown, however, was marred by an incident in which several policemen were seen on video helping themselves to boxes of confiscated firecrackers shortly after they were shown to reporters at a news conference over the weekend. The policemen could face administrative charges or dismissal.

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