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Emergency Beijing Olympic pollution scheme kicks in
July 20, 2008 / 3:08 AM / 9 years ago

Emergency Beijing Olympic pollution scheme kicks in

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING, July 20 (Reuters) - Traffic restrictions and factory closures came into affect in Beijing on Sunday in a last ditch attempt to turn the often smokey and dusty Chinese capital into the promised pollution-free venue for next month's Olympics.

Cars will be banned on alternate days depending on whether their license plates end in odd or even numbers, and almost all Beijing's earth and cement works have now been closed.

Beijing hopes to take 45 percent of the city's 3.3 million cars off the roads and reduce emissions by 63 percent for a two-month period, which takes in the Aug. 8-24 Olympics and Sept. 6-17 Paralympics.

The city's chronic pollution has been one of the biggest headaches for Games organisers, who are banking on traffic restrictions and last-minute industrial cut-backs to bring blue skies and easy breathing for athletes during the Games.

The city has warned drivers that might consider violating Olympic traffic restrictions that they will be caught by a high-tech surveillance network, but offenders will receive only modest fines, according to state media.

Authorities had installed more than 10,000 "smart" devices, including cameras, "ultrasonic and microwave" scanners at regular intervals on major trunk roads and dozens of designated Olympic routes.

Cars caught by the surveillance network would be fined 100 yuan ($15), but it was not clear whether drivers could be fined multiple times in one day.

With more than 1,000 new cars hitting the street every day, Beijing is fast becoming one of the world's most congested cities. Officials hope that reduced emissions during the Games period will help improve air quality, although some athletes have lingering concerns.

Construction sites in rapidly developing Beijing have also been blamed for the poor air quality, which has led some to dub the city "Grayjing".

More than 150 high-polluting earth and cement works have been shut for two months, and only five are being retained for "emergency" purposes.

But the rules are not just limited to the capital.

Tianjin, a port city just east of Beijing and host to Olympic soccer qualifiers, last week ordered 40 factories to close. Tangshan, a heavy industrial base northeast of Beijing will shut nearly 300 factories this month to improve air quality for the Games.

Beijing has spent some 120 billion yuan ($17.58 billion) to clean up its environment, and has already ordered 300,000 high-emission cars off its roads.

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For a factbox on factory closures, please doubleclick on [ID:nPEK253453]

For a factbox on other Olympic preparations, please doubleclick on [ID:nPEK251677]

* * * * * ($1=6.826 Yuan) (Additional reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Jeremy Laurence) (For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)




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