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South Africa Parliament blaze under control, suspect charged

CAPE TOWN (AFP) – A fire that ravaged part of South Africa’s Parliament, engulfing the National Assembly and threatening national treasures, has been brought under control, firefighters said yesterday, as police charged a suspect with starting the blaze.

Flames broke out early Sunday in the oldest wing of the Cape Town complex, triggering an inferno that crews battled throughout the day.

“The fire was brought under control during the night,” spokesman Jermaine Carelse said, adding that teams were still extinguishing flames in the historic wood-panelled part of the building where it had begun.

“The most damage is in the National Assembly building,” Carelse said. “That won’t be used for months.”

Earlier, Parliament spokesman Moloto Mothapo said the roof of the assembly had collapsed and the fire was “so intense” in that part of the building that firefighters had been forced to withdraw.

“The entire chamber where the members sit… has burned down,” he said.

No casualties were reported.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters at the scene on Sunday that a man had been held and that the building’s sprinkler systems had apparently failed.

Police said yesterday that they had charged a 49-year-old man whom they had detained inside Parliament a day earlier.

The man, due to appear in court today, has been accused of “housebreaking, arson” and damaging state property, The Hawks elite police unit said.

The Parliament’s presiding officers met yesterday with Public Works Minister Patricia de Lille to take stock of the devastation.

Firefighters walk out of the area, as a fire takes hold of the South African Parliament buildings, in Cape Town. PHOTO: AFP