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Australian bushfire death toll hits 200

THE death toll in Australia's deadliest bushfires reached 200 today as police continued to search through ash and rubble of several razed towns in the southern state of Victoria.

Australia has launched its biggest arson investigation into the fires, fanned by a heatwave and strong winds, which swept through towns north of Melbourne on Feb. 7.

"The toll has risen from 189 to 200," a police spokeswoman said, but declined to give any more detail of where bodies of more victims were found.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described the fires, with at least one deliberately lit, as "mass murder". A man has been charged with "arson causing death" over one of the deadly bushfires, which killed 21 people.

In Victoria, arson carries a jail term of two to 15 years, and 25 years if there's loss of life.

The bushfire tragedy is the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years. The previous worst bushfire was the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 which killed 75 people.


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