Pollution, traffic top concerns for Beijing 2 years before Games

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

BEIJING -- Two years to the day before the 2008 Beijing Olympics are set to begin, organizers heralded a smooth construction program and shared concerns about potential traffic and pollution problems.

Construction on 12 new Olympic venues and renovation of nine sites is expected to be completed by the end of 2007, said Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games.

Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the International Olympic Committee's coordination commission for Beijing, said China has shown "flawless planning until now."

"I am very confident in China's ability to pull off a great games," he said Tuesday during a Web cast on the Internet site of Around the Rings, an Atlanta-based news organization devoted to the Olympics.

China, however, will face a series of challenges in the coming two years as it prepares for the Aug. 8 to 24 games.

An investigation into possible corruption by a former Beijing deputy mayor, who oversaw billions of dollars worth of Olympic related construction, is continuing, Beijing organizers said Tuesday.

Liu Zhihua, dismissed in early June, has not been charged but is under investigation, Wang said. More than a dozen government officials and businessmen have been detained or questioned in the investigation. The government has said it is intent on staging a graft-free Olympics, but bribe-taking is rampant, especially in the booming construction industry.

Traffic and pollution concerns also demand immediate attention.

With soaring car ownership, the city of more than 15 million residents regularly is choked with traffic and haze.

"We recognize that people are worried about the traffic issues," said Jiang Xiaoyu, another executive vice president of the Beijing organizing committee, at a news conference. "Smooth and convenient transport services are part and parcel of the success of the Olympic Games."

Beijing has promised to try to clear the air by enforcing tougher emissions standards for cars, moving polluting industries out of the city and reducing reliance on coal in favor of natural gas.

Gunilla Lindberg, secretary general of the Swedish Olympic Committee and the Association of National Olympic Committees, said Tuesday that Beijing's air pollution was "still a problem" and that athletes were very concerned about it.

Olympic planners are stepping up subway and airport construction, Jiang said, and will encourage the use of public transport instead of private cars during the Olympics.

Dedicated Olympic traffic lanes are planned, but other measures to reduce traffic, such as a proposed city holiday during the games, are still under consideration.

Also Tuesday, the organization Reporters Without Borders issued a statement criticizing Beijing for its "crackdown on the press," saying Chinese restrictions threatened to prevent journalists from doing their jobs during the games.

Wang, who appeared with Jiang at the news conference, said Beijing planned to "abide by the best practices of previous games to provide convenient and comfortable services to the media." But Jiang cautioned reporters must abide by Chinese law.

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