KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Shifting winds carried smoke from Indonesian forest fires to more areas of Malaysia on Friday, as millions prayed for rains to wash away the yellow noxious haze choking cities. Indonesia came under criticism for not doing enough to control the fires.

Asian nations, including Malaysia, offered to help put out the fires in Indonesia, where a few hundred villagers were reported to be battling the flames with buckets of water on Sumatra island. But Indonesia had yet to agree to the offer.

The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Indonesia is a member, urged Jakarta to take up the group’s offer of firefighting equipment and manpower.

“Indonesia is saying they have already mobilized domestic fire resources,” ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong told The Associated Press. “What we are saying is that more is needed to put out the fires.”

A new wind direction provided respite for people in Malaysia’s worst-affected area, the central Klang Valley, blowing away the haze to reveal pale blue skies and a dim orange disc of the sun, not seen for days.

But the wind also carried the smoke to northern and eastern towns, where visibility fell rapidly – to one mile in the northern town of Penang and only a half mile in Terengganu. A visibility of six miles is considered normal.

About 50 members of the opposition Democratic Action Party demonstrated noisily outside the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, demanding compensation from Jakarta over the haze.

“It has severely disrupted our lives. We must let the Indonesian government know how much Malaysians are suffering and how angry we are,” DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng said. “We are breathing in poison every day. Things have never been this bad.”

The haze, a noxious cocktail of smoke, atmospheric gases, fuel emissions and dust, has increased the number of respiratory complaints such as sore throat and asthma by 150 percent, health officials said.

It has also forced the closure of schools and disrupted traffic in the Klang Valley, which includes the main city, Kuala Lumpur; the capital, Putrajaya; and the busiest harbor, Port Klang.

Dolly Tan, who lives in the Shah Alam suburb of Kuala Lumpur, sent cell phone text messages to her friends, asking them to pray for her asthmatic husband’s health and for rain.

“His asthma is getting worse. All the windows and doors are closed tight but we can still smell the smoke inside the house. I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Special prayers were said in mosques and temples after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi urged people of all faiths to seek divine intervention for rains in the dry weather month.

“We pray that Allah will bestow rain on this land so that the haze will disappear,” said Omar Mehat, the grand imam of the National Mosque, as dozens of Muslims filed past him into the main hall for Friday prayers.

The fires on Sumatra, across a narrow strip of sea from Malaysia, were started by farmers, plantation owners and miners to clear land during dry weather – an annual occurrence. At least two Malaysian companies were said to be involved in the burning.

AP-ES-08-12-05 1820EDT

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