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Sludge plant boss is held over toxic Hungary leak

The boss of the aluminium company responsible for Hungary's flood of caustic red sludge was arrested today.

Police said they were questioning managing director Zoltan Bakonyi on suspicion of public endangerment and environmental damage.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament that the government wanted to take over the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company because the safe restart of production at the plant was needed to save thousands of jobs.

Mr Orban said he was also freezing the company's assets to ensure that funds were available to compensate for the damages caused by the disaster.

"Since this is not a natural catastrophe but the damage was brought about by people, the damages must be paid first and foremost not by taxpayers but by those who caused the damage," he said.

The company said it was willing to pay compensation "in proportion to its responsibility" for the damage caused by the deluge.

Meanwhile cracks in the reservoir which burst last week, flooding several towns with the sludge and killing at least seven people, have not continued to widen, officials said today.

The National Disaster Management Directorate said measurements taken in the past 24 hours of cracks on the northern wall, which experts expected to fall, showed no further movement.

At the same time, health authorities warned the local population, as well as clean-up and building crews, that the amount of red dust in the air exceeded safe limits and that they should use protective gear.

Parts of Kolontar, the town closest to the metals plant's 25-acre storage pool, have become uninhabitable, and more than 700 residents have been evacuated.

The owners of the plant expressed their condolences to the families of those killed, as well as to those injured - and said they were sorry for not having done so sooner.