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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK

Middle Eastern press report eclipse fear and jubilation

The Egyptian press reported that, despite a Health Ministry warning, 98 people complained of partial blindness from having looked directly at the solar eclipse, which reached 70 per cent in Egypt.

There was widespread absenteeism from work as civil servants feared damage to their health, and most private firms only worked a half day, which the papers said resulted on a 16-million-dollar fall in trade turnover.

President Hosni Mubarak had ordered astronomers to monitor the eclipse for signs of any scientific importance, while most major cities, beaches and tourist sites were deserted.

In Algeria, the press reported that the public took the government health warning seriously.

The streets of Algiers and Oran were empty as people stayed at home to watch the eclipse on television.

Hospitals had braced themselves to cope with a flood of people complaining of eye problems during the two hour partial eclipse, but very few casualties in fact turned up.

The Iraqi press reported a total eclipse at 1147 gmt in the north.

Scientists and the public applauded the two minutes of darkness as the stars made a daytime appearance.

A breeze rose, and the temperature dropped to 41 degrees centigrade at midday on an especially hot day.

Other Arab papers reported that the streets were also deserted in Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon, including the southern zone occupied by Israeli forces, and that most citizens decided for themselves to take a half-day off work.

Many people flocked to mosques for special prayers, and the service from the Al-Abasiyyah mosque in northern Cairo was broadcast live in Egypt.

The Kuwaiti press reported that a 21-year-old man drowned in the rough sea off Kuwait after falling in.

People had gathered on the shore to watch the eclipse.

Other Kuwaitis heeded government health warnings and closed their doors and windows to the eclipse, while streets and markets were deserted and most offices only worked a part day.

The Libyan daily newspaper Al-Jamahiriyah cast a cold eye on the "eclipse-fever" that prompted tens of thousands of people to head for Europe and a good view, while "scientists confirmed that the phenomenon had no significance in scientific research" .

"The solar eclipse is a natural phenomenon, but capitalist society had to turn it into a commercial one, exaggerating and magnifying it and to sell us glasses and invite us to spend a beautiful time in floating boats in Europe," it said.

Al-Jamahiriyah asked whyArabs were so interested in the eclipse " as if the sun of the Arabs was shining" .

In Iran, the Tehran Times said over 15,000 foreign tourists had come to see the total eclipse as it crossed the country in a 100-kilometre swathe.

Tourism Organization head Mohammad Moezeddin said the eclipse had provided Iran with an " outstanding opportunity" , which is why his Organization had conducted a worldwide publicity campaign.

The city of Isfahan provided the best view, and many eminent astronomers joined the amateur star-gazers to watch the two-minute eclipse.

"Cries of joy and God is Great echoed through the city as stars appeared in the sky and the city lights were turned on by officials," the newspaper said.

The public nationwide filled mosques for special prayers specified for lunar and solar eclipses and earthquakes.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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