A touch of blue amid the grey

Mary-Anne Toy in Beijing
July 21, 2008
 
 

BEIJING enjoyed a rare blue-sky day yesterday, with only a slight haze, as the city banned half its traffic and shut factories and large construction projects in a last-ditch attempt to improve the city's pollution for the Olympics.

Hundreds of police and citizen militia or "city volunteers" were out in force, their presence more visible because of the vastly reduced traffic.

Beijing hopes to slash vehicle emissions, a big contributor to pollution, by 63 per cent by taking nearly half its 3.3 million cars off the roads for two months. Private cars can only be used on alternate days. The move is expected to force 4 million more people to use the public transport system, which yesterday opened three new subway lines.

As a three-tier "ring of steel" comprising police with shotguns and sometimes sniffer dogs continued monitoring all traffic into Beijing, thousands of petitioners from around China complaining to central government about local corruption and other issues are waiting to be forcibly returned home as police clear the city of potential troublemakers.

Because much of the pollution that blankets Beijing drifts in from surrounding provinces, factories hundreds of kilometres away are also to be shut. Tianjin, a port just east of Beijing and host to the soccer qualifiers, shut 40 factories last week, and Tangshan, north-east of Beijing, will shut nearly 300 factories this month to improve air quality.

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers will be forced to return home as they will in effect have no work for two months, and it is unclear if other workers will be paid compensation for the enforced layoff.

Police at the weekend denied they had ordered some bars in the popular Sanlitun district to stop serving Mongolians or the city's small minority of black residents, as yet another bar owner confirmed the restriction. "They made us sign and chop a document saying we would not allow black people in [during the Games]," the bar owner told the South China Morning Post.

"But no one is willing to say so because we'll all get deported."