07/22/2009, 00.00
ASIA
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Asia, rain and pollution obscure the eclipse of the century

In India a woman died crushed by the crowd, millions of people barricaded themselves in their homes for fear of the pernicious influences of the sun's invisible rays. In Beijing the sky covered by a thick blanket of smog, in Shanghai the rain ruined the spectacle for millions of tourists.

Shanghai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Rain, pollution and the death of a woman in India have ruined the party tens for millions of Asians, who today experienced the longest eclipse of the sun this century. The astronomical phenomenon begun at 6:24 am in India (1: 54am in Italy) and then moved eastward reaching Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, ending in the Pacific Islands. At the moment of maximum intensity, the darkening of the sun lasted 6 minutes and 39 seconds, but in most of Asia the spectacle was ruined by bad weather. 

In Varanasi, India, on the banks of the Ganges - the river sacred to Hindus - thousands of people were bathing in the waters of the river to purify themselves, according to an ancient tradition. The event was marked by a tragedy: for yet unspecified reasons, the crowd began to flee - perhaps in prey of panic - and a 65 year old woman died in the stampede. Six other people were injured in the crush. Also in India, millions of people preferred to stay home, terrorized by fear. The country is steeped in the traditions and superstitions that are based on Hindu culture, one of these requires that pregnant women are locked in the house during the eclipse to avoid "negative influences" of the "invisible sunlight" on the unborn child.

In China, the disappointment for millions of fans and curious people was even greater. The pollution in Beijing and bad weather in Shanghai ruined the party. In the capital, a gray blanket caused by pollution veiled the sky, obscuring the natural phenomenon to a large extent.

In the coastal city of Shanghai, where millions of Chinese and foreign tourists had gathered, a light drizzle persisted for the duration solar eclipse. The city in recent days had invested money and publicity to promote the event.

 In Wuhan, an industrial city in central China, just before the eclipse clouds covered the sky. "It was a shame" says Zhen Jun, a local worker who - together with colleagues - had obtained permission for a day off to enjoy the show.

In Bangkok, Thailand, dozens of Buddhist monks held a mass prayer meeting in a local temple to drive out the "harmful effects". "The solar eclipse is fraught with bad omens - says Pinya Pongjaroen, a famous Thai astrologer – we pray for the good of the country."

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