Trying to improve the Chinese capital’s air quality in time for the Olympic Games, restrictions on driving have been introduced in Beijing (photo, from abc.net.au). Coming into effect on Sunday, 19 days before the sporting event begins, the directive bans private vehicles with odd, and even, numbered licence plates from Beijing’s roads on alternate days.
The rules to reduce Beijng’s notorious air pollution will remain in effect until September 20. Last year, Jacques Rogge, head of the International Committee (IOC) said that poor air quality during the August 8-24 games would threaten some events.
Those who drive their vehicules on the wrong day will have to pay a fine of $14, which is a significant amount in China, where incomes are lower than those in more developed countries.
Though traffic was light on the streets of Beijing as the restrictions came into force, it will take some time for the haze to clear.
There is a total of 3.3 million vehicles in the Chinese capital, and last August a package of similar restrictions to reduce their use was introduce for a trial period. But the haze from pollution remained.
But this time, polluting industires in the region around Beijing have been ordered by the authorities to shut down, along with the halting of construction in the city.
And three underground railway lines opened a day before the road traffic restrictions took effect, to absorb the amount of extra passengers using the city’s rail network.
Although the Chinese government is taking considerable steps in order to promote an image of harmony and unity in the run-up to the games, concerns remain regarding government attempts to quell any social unrest.
On Sunday, an activist group said that the latest incident are two people who were killed by police officers, during a battle with villagers in southwestern China.
The Hong Kong Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said that on Saturday, in Yunnan province’s Menglian county, about 1,000 rubber growers clashed with police, while demonstrating over the price at which they have to sell their crops.
The farmers are angry because even though they could obtain better prices on the open market, they are forced to sell their entire crop to local government departments, at prices 40 per cent lower.
The local government had been instructed to put an end to the dispute, said Xinhua, China’s state news agency, quoting Bai Enpei, a senior Communist party official. He said that the provincial authorities should listen “attentively to the complaints and appeal of local residents, making great efforts to rescue the injured people, and consoling family members of the dead to prevent the matter from escalating”.
Recently, China ordered local governments to make every effort to resolve social disputes, in order to prevent protests from spreading to the capital.