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2008 Olympics
2008 Olympics
UPDATED: March 26, 2007 from chinadaily.com.cn
Beijingers Come out in Force for 500-Day Countdown
"We've come to show our support for the Olympic Games," said one student from the Chinese Women's University

Beijing faces some big challenges in the 501 days before the Olympics but the thousands who showed up in Chaoyang Park on Sunday clearly illustrated that winning local support was not one of them.

Some 10,000 people walked 18km around the city's largest park to mark the eve of 500 day countdown to the Games, also proving that China has not lost the ability to mobilise large numbers of people in public places.

"We've come to show our support for the Olympic Games," said one student from the Chinese Women's University.

Huge construction projects are not a problem for China either, and the showpiece "Bird's Nest" national stadium and "Water Cube" acquatic centre are already familiar features of the city skyline.

Not for Beijing the last-minute scramble to finish the venues that marred the run-up to the Athens Games in 2004, nor the squabbles over money that have already marked London's preparations to host in 2012.

All the venues remain on schedule to be completed by the end of this year and more than 40 sporting events has been organised to give each one a thorough test.

The $2.1 billion cost of running the Games is likely to be offset by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) contribution and the highly successful sponsorship programme.

There is certainly a frenzy of construction in Beijing but many of the thousands of skyscrapers springing up are privately funded, while the decision to spend some $40 billion of public money for the upgrade of infrastructure brooks no disagreement in a country still firmly ruled by the Communist Party.

On Friday, however, the Political Bureau of the party's Central Committee did sound a warning that the organisation of the Games should be "frugal".

Software Issues

So while the preparation of the "hardware" is looking good, the IOC inspection commission is likely to be focusing on "software" issues when it returns to Beijing for its next visit in April.

The Beijing government has concentrated its "software" efforts on stamping out spitting, littering and queue-jumping in its attempt to present a modern, civilised city to the world from August 8 to 24 next year.

There remains, most obviously to residents, the fact that China's economic boom has made Beijing one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Sunday's walk in the park may have taken place under clear blues skies but that only served as a contrast to the preceding week of poor visibility and choking smog.

The city is trying to do something about it and media have recently been taken to visit a steel foundry and coking plant both closed down to improve the air.

Beijing is also trying to reduce the fumes from coal burned for heating but there is now the problem of the nearly three million cars in the city -- a tally increasing by 1,110 a day.

"It's a little bit of a contradiction," Olympic official Tu Mingde said. "We're obviously worried about air pollution but at the same time we feel very happy because when I was young you could never think about buying a car. It was impossible.

"Now the kids can leave school and afford to buy a car."

(Reuters via chinadaily.com.cn March 26, 2007)

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