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BEIJING OLYMPICS 2008 / Beijing failing to clear the air

The National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, is blanketed in a haze of air pollution despite fine weather in Beijing on Saturday.

BEIJING--With the opening of the Beijing Olympics less than two weeks away, preparations are now in their final stages. The city is festooned with Games logos and decorations, and the Olympic village opens its doors Sunday.

However, Beijing has so far failed to reduce air pollution, a major concern for Olympians. Despite strict traffic restrictions launched Sunday and other antipollution measures, smog levels have not fallen over the past few days as much as city authorities had hoped.

In Tiananmen Square, flowers arranged in Olympic-themed patterns add a splash of color, while a huge depiction of the Beijing Olympic emblem has been created on a hillside in a Beijing suburb.

However, these decorations are veiled by a haze apparently caused by pollution.

Beijing has been taking measures to clean up the air in the city. Some factories have been shut down and the driving restriction allows only cars with odd number plates to drive one day and evens the next.

According to an air pollution index used by the Chinese authorities, a level of between zero and 100 means clean air.

The city has been trying to achieve a level of 100 or lower.

For four days since the launch of the driving restriction, the level was 55, 65, 67 and 89 on the respective days, but it increased to 113 on Thursday and to 109 on Friday--figures that indicate minor air pollution.

At a press conference Friday, Du Shaozhong, the deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, attributed the discouraging figures to a lack of rainy or windy days. But he admitted the city should make more efforts to tackle pollution, expressing frustration that the city had failed to achieve a desired pollution level despite the tough antismog measures that have inconvenienced many Beijingers.

While Beijing will undertake cloud seeding before the opening of the Olympics on Aug. 8 in a bid to create clear skies for the opening day, some expect the rain also will flush away much of the pollution in the air.

(Jul. 27, 2008)
AP News
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