07/28/2008, 00.00
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Olympic Village opened, with tea rooms and censored internet cafes

The site has been presented to the press, although it is not yet open. Many Chinese athletes were present, out of sight and inaccessible for months. Meanwhile, the air is still seriously polluted, and more drastic measures have been announced.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Beijing yesterday inaugurated  the new village for the Olympic athletes, beneath a milky gray sky heavy with the pollution that restrictions on vehicles have not yet improved. New anti-pollution measures are under consideration, while the Chinese athletes have appeared in public for the first time in many months.

About 300 athletes and their trainers participated in the ceremony, not far from the "Bird's Nest" stadium, barely visible through the hazy atmosphere. The blocking of about 2 million out of 3.3 million vehicles in the capital, and the closing of many factories has not brought the hoped-for benefits, and now hopes are set on the arrival of rain and winds from the north, to sweep away the blanket of pollution.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing's environmental protection agency, explains that "more drastic measures have been prepared", like the blocking of 90% of private vehicles, and "the closing of many more factories, both in Beijing and in the surrounding areas".

The Chinese Olympic athletes - 639 of them - have been "in training" for months, far from the press and from public curiosity, and even from their friends, and after the ceremony they went back into hiding. The undeclared objective is that of winning more competitions than the United States. The guests of honor included basketball icon Yao Ming (in the photo) and hurdles champion Liu Xiang, who were fawned over by an enthusiastic crowd and questioned by journalists.

The village has 42 residential complexes, and a large recreational area, to host the estimated 16,000 athletes, trainers, and officials from all over the world. The recreational area, the only area open to the media yesterday, is a combination of Chinese tradition and efficiency: it has an acupuncture and massage salon, a traditional tea room, churches for the various religions, and a learning center for those who want to understand the basics of the Chinese language. "We will also give foreign athletes Chinese names at their request", explains a volunteer teacher, "based on the pronunciation of their names in their native tongue and their individual personality as well".

Some foreign officials are enthusiastic over the green space, the fountains, and the recreational rooms. But some others observe that censorship at the internet cafes in the village is the same as for the rest of the country, despite promises that sites like the BBC in Chinese would not be blocked: the organizers respond that the problem depends on "technical issues" that were not explained further.

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