07/21/2008, 00.00
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Beijing before the Olympics, final effort against pollution and petitions

As of today, vehicle traffic is restricted. Some of the subway stations are overcrowded. Maximum attention against those who want to make petitions, but many are waiting for the Games before they bring their protests before the world. Hundreds of thousands of migrants without work.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In preparation for the Olympics, as of yesterday and for two months, half of the 3.3 million vehicles in the capital will be able to circulate only on alternate days, according to their license plates. Polluting chemical, electrical, and steel plants in the area have reduced production and cut emissions by 30%, and construction projects have been completely shut down in order to reduce the amount of small particles in the air.

A crush of passengers today forced several important subway stations to close "for reasons of security", like Line 2 in Jianguomen. But in general, the lines for public transportation have been shorter than feared, in part because workers and businesses have been asked to adjust their working hours, and the opening of public offices has been moved back by one hour. On July 19, they opened two new underground lines and one new railway line to the airport, and four August 3,000 extra bus passengers are expected, with a capacity from 12.5-15 million passengers per day.

The reduction in traffic is also due to the exodus from the city of hundreds of thousands of migrants, who are without work after the construction projects were shut down. Only those employed by cleaning services or in similar jobs have remained. But many are protesting that they have not yet been paid.

Despite all of these measures, it is uncertain whether the air of Beijing, which is ordinarily dingy and polluted, will permit events of long duration to be held. Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, has repeated that some of the competitions could be delayed or even moved elsewhere, if the air in the capital is too polluted. The world's leading marathon runner, Harie Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, has already announced that he will not go because of the high level of pollution in the city. Moreover, in August there is often not enough wind in Beijing to push out the pollution.

Meanwhile, there are tight security controls around the capital, and even bus passengers need to put their baggage through a scanner and carry an identification document with them at all times. Authorities warn that policemen will be held "personally responsible" if they allow "a criminal" to escape. But witnesses recount that although the controls are widespread, they are relaxed, and no one really believes that an attack will be carried out.

Experts observe that the tight controls (involving 100,000 anti-terrorism policemen, 150,000 security guards, and 290,000 volunteer reserves, according to Xinhua), in addition to preventing attacks, are intended to prevent public protests on the part of millions of unhappy citizens, and that the tight controls are in part intended to intercept those who wish to lodge petitions: every day in Beijing, hundreds present written protests, and every day the police arrest hundreds of them or send them back home. But many refuse to be discouraged, and are coming to the Beijing suburbs and waiting for the Games, hoping to circumvent the controls and draw worldwide attention to their problems.

The universities are also under tight control, and foreign tourists are banned from visiting them without a specific reason.

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