05/06/2010, 00.00
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Shanghai Expo, turnout lower than expected, long queues, more arrests

Hour long queues to see most important pavilions, widespread protests of visitors. But visitors are much lower than estimates, which now appear completely wrong. Meanwhile, continuing arrests and convictions of rights activists to prevent any protest in Shanghai.

Shanghai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Shanghai World Expo, presented as the largest and most expensive ever, after four days has registered much less interest than expected, despite three days of national holidays related to the celebration of 1 May.  However, the arrests and convictions of those who want to protest for civil rights, show no sign of stopping.

On May1, the first day of opening, 40% of those who bought tickets did not come. But at peak times from midday onwards, people were forced to queue for over four hours to visit the main halls, those including China, Switzerland, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia and others, under a hot sun and without shelter, although the visitors spent only a short time at the expositions. Even to enter the less important pavilions, such as the Singapore tent, the queues were at least an hour long. The was widespread protests by the visitors, who eventually spent most of their time at the expo in queues.

Long queues also characterised the following days, with it taking upwards of an hour to gain access to the most interesting tents such as those of Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Saudi Arabia.  

Organizers say that on the first day 205 thousand people came to the 5.28 sq km Expo about 150 thousand fewer than the tickets sold. The China pavilion, among the most anticipated, registered 30 thousand visitors. The ticket holders can still use them on a less busy day.

Yesterday the visitors were about 146 thousand. But it already seems quite unlikely that the 70 million expected visitors (even more than the record 64.2 million Expo 1970 in Osaka, Japan) will be reached: This is an average of 380 people per day over 6 months and a much smaller number of visitors on the first day has caused great inconvenience. Now it is alleged that the estimates on the actual ability to accommodate visitors considered the entire exhibition space, while interest is concentrated on a limited number of pavilions. The initial chaos was greater for the inauguration because several pavilions were not even opened.

There is also controversy about the high cost: Shanghai has spent 18 billion Yuan (over 2 billion euros) to build the 5.28 km ² of exhibition space and hundreds of billions in infrastructure made over eight years in anticipation of the' huge influx of people.

There are already numerous critical comments on web sites: the high cost of tickets and food for the inappropriate content of many pavilions.

The police however remain on high alert.  They have been working for weeks to arrest Shanghai social activists and to avoid any protests at the Expo.

Feng Yongji, an author of petitions from Shihezi (Xinjiang) was detained after he indicated in an article online that he wanted to visit the Expo.

Qingshan Xiao and Qi Na, workers' rights activists, were detained on 1 May while preparing a protest in Shanghai, they were held the whole day and then sent home.

Zhou Jihong from Shanghai has also been arrested several times since September 2009 for submission of petitions and legal proceedings against officials of Shanghai for the forced demolition of his family home to build the Expo. On April 15, he was arrested again in Beijing for "having disturbed the order in public places” and brought back to Shanghai.

On April 13 Jianfang Chen was sentenced to 15 months of reeducation-through-labor for "disturbing public order" for a peaceful protest made on April 13, 2009 at Beijing University. The rights group China Human Rights Defender reports that the severe administrative sentence of hard labour is likely to constitute a deterrent to anyone who wants to protest during the Expo. Chen also had brought petitions against the forced demolition of his house and without compensation in Shanghai in 2005.

Li Zhengzhong, del'Hebei activist was arrested by police in Shanghai on the night of 1 May. Li was in town to present petitions. He was forcibly returned to his county of origin, Canzhou, and put in a "black prison". He is now on hunger strike.  

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See also
Beijing imposes harsh sentences on Tibetan monks and lama
Pre-Expo “cleansing”, dissidents arrested, sent to camps
Hu thanks the police as rate of death by torture grows in prisons
Christian activists visit "petitioners' village" in Beijing
Activists and petitioners held in China's psychiatric hospitals


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