Beijing raises air quality goal for Olympics
By Liu Zhen
BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing is aiming for more "good air days" in 2008 as it prepares to host the Olympics in August, a senior official said on Friday, with the city's notorious pollution a major concern for athletes and organizers.
Beijing recorded 244 "blue sky days" by December 28 this year, a day short of its 245-day target. The standard of a "blue sky day" has not been widely recognized by international scientists.
"I predict that we will be able to meet this year's target in the last three days," said Jiang Xiaoyu, spokesman and executive vice president of Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG).
"The target number of good air quality days in 2008 will be higher than this year," Jiang told a news conference.
Pollution in Beijing, known for its noxious smog, is a major concern for athletes and officials planning for next August and Olympic chief Jacques Rogge has said some events may have to be rescheduled if the air quality is not good enough.
The host city has already spent 120 billion yuan ($16.4 billion) in environmental programs to combat pollution and Jiang said there were more efforts to come.
"A new coordination plan to ensure a good environment during the Games by central government, Beijing government and neighboring provinces is going to be issued soon," he said.
Venues for the Games were all finished for the end of 2007 as scheduled except for the National Stadium, dubbed the "Bird's Nest" for its interlaced steel shell, where the opening and closing ceremonies will be held. That stadium will likely be completed by March.
But another showpiece venue, the "Water Cube" aquatics centre was finished and the pool had already been filled, Jiang said.
"The Water Cube is preparing for its first test event in January," he said.
Jiang said he expected more heads of state at the Games in Beijing than there were in Athens, and said they would include U.S. President George Bush, who has already agreed to visit the city during the Olympics.
"Security is included in our hospitality to all guests including those VIPs .... We will definitely do our job well to ensure their safety," he said.
organizers must prepare for all kinds contingencies, crisis and risks in the final months, said Jiang.
"I am aware of the future difficulties and challenges," Jiang said. "But with the support of 1.3 billion Chinese people, I'm confident that we will be able to overcome them."
(Editing by Lindsay Beck)