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New Zealand man sets himself on fire in front of parliament in election week

A man has set himself on fire in front of New Zealand’s parliament, two days ahead of national elections. It has been a tumultuous week in the south sea nation which will elect a new government on Saturday.

New Zealand police said that a man who set himself on fire in front of the country's parliament building in Wellington was in critical condition Thursday. The incident occurred just two days prior to national elections and local reports suggested that he was a lone protester.

Witnesses reported that several onlookers saw the incident from a hotel across the street and rushed to douse the man with buckets of water. Firefighters and an ambulance soon rushed to the scene and took the man to the hospital. Neither the man's identity nor his motives are known at this point. Police cordoned off parliament grounds following the incident.

Sergeant Glenn Turner informed reporters that police were reviewing security camera footage of the area for clues, adding, "things like this are highly unusual and unfortunate.”

Suddenly a tight race

New Zealand, which is in the middle of a closely contested general election, has been experiencing an uncharacteristically turbulent week. Prime Minister Bill English of the conservative National Party has come under fire in the wake of damage to one of the country's main fuel pipelines outside Auckland and suddenly finds himself in a tight race to hold on to his job.

Read more: New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern set to eclipse Martin Schulz's Social Democrats in Germany

After an underground pipeline that carries jet fuel to the country's largest airport burst on September 14, the government has been scrambling to keep transportation moving. The disruption has caused fuel shortages which have in turn led to flight cancellations and delays. Although the pipeline is privately owned, the government has been criticized for its handling of the issue.

Read more: Government commission to handle New Zealand fuel shortage crisis

English, who had previously led opinion polls by as much as 10 percentage points, now finds himself in a neck-and-neck race with Jacinda Ardern, the charismatic 37-year-old leader of the opposition Labour Party, ahead of Saturday's vote.

js/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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