Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008, All Set To Start

Despite a warning issued to the Chinese government by the IOC President Jacques Rogge that some endurance events might have to be postponed to a different time of day if pollution levels are very high, the Beijing (Summer) Olympics 2008 is all and everything set to start this August 8, 2008 in which the opening ceremony is scheduled to be graced by the United States President George W. Bush and the First Lady, Laura Bush. The White House has defended American president’s stance of attending the opening ceremony regardless of criticisms and oppositions from pro-human rights groups due to the China’s reported widespread human rights violation along with Tibetans, Uyghurs and even to its own people – controversial issues of capital punishment, one-child policy and restrictions of press freedom.

As the symbolic Olympic Village Key was received by Chen Zhili, the ‘Mayor of the Village’ in a ceremony held last July 27, the Chinese athletes led by NBA Star Yao Ming, were the first contingent to check into, out of more than 16,000 competitors who are expected to occupy the village complex. On the same occasion the Chinese National Flag was raised.

“We now welcome athletes from around the world to come to the Games … We will try to satisfy the needs of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds,” she emphasized on her speech as she holds the symbolic gold key given by Liu Qi, president of the organizing committee who is also the head of the Beijing Communist Party.

Yet, dealing with the city’s pollution problem is one of the biggest challenges the Beijing Summer Games is facing-up. According to the World Health Organization, the pollution figures for Beijing are still far from its recommended target level. Last July 20, the Chinese government launched a pollution reduction plan. These draconian measures failed to make a dent, and the air quality got worse, shrouding the capital like a heavy fog, choking people and choking off the sunlight – thus the city failed to produce a blue day.

On Wednesday, as thousands of world-class athletes are heading for the country for the start of the Olympic Games, Chinese officials announce a more intensive emergency pollution plan which is to be implemented. It calls for more closing of factories, complete stop to all construction projects and additional reduction of the quantity of vehicles on the streets and driving restrictions – last digit odd/even plate number schemes – odd numbers for one day and even numbers on the next day, alternately.

These extra measures are not solely for the city of Beijing but it also includes Tianjin City and Hebei province. With cooler wind and pouring rains last Tuesday, eased-up to help sweep away pollutants generating a dropped in pollution level, the lowest reading since July 20 plan took effect. It is expected that a cooler temperature and less hazy skies on August 8, the day of the opening ceremony.

The improvement in air quality reflects the effectiveness of the latest strategy, according to Du Shaozhong, the deputy director of Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. He even told reporters, “We have seen comprehensive measures implemented already and we have seen that they have had comprehensive results … If we still don’t have ideal air quality for the Games, we will take more measures, and they will be measures that are similar to what has already been taken but to a higher degree …”

The symbolic key given to the 'Village Mayor'

A preview of a part of the 'Amazing' opening ceremony

A video report on Beijing pollution

A video update on the Grand Opening Ceremony

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