Beijing Considers Measures for Olympics

Friday, September 15th 2006, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ The host city of the 2008 Summer Games is considering hospitalizing the mentally ill, relaxing restrictions on religious services and giving many businesses and factories a holiday as possible contingency measures during the Olympics.

The city office overseeing Olympic preparations discussed dozens of possible moves for the Games at an internal meeting Thursday, ranging from limits on the use of cars to banning the posting of handbills around the city, the state-run Beijing Morning Post said Friday.

Among the measures discussed, the newspaper said, were shutting down heavily polluting factories to clean up the air, giving most Beijing residents a 16-day holiday to alleviate traffic and allowing foreigners to worship in groups, which is officially outlawed _ although the ban rarely is enforced.

A spokesman for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Environmental and Construction Headquarters Office, which conducted the meeting, confirmed the newspaper report but stressed no decisions have been made. ``Everything is still under discussion,'' said spokesman Zhou Jiawang.

Chinese leaders have staked the country's prestige on running a successful Games and have raised expectations in the sports and business worlds the event will set a new standard for the Olympic movement. But the city often chokes with pollution and is gridlocked in standstill traffic, posing logistical and planning challenges.

City officials and the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, known as BOCOG, previously have said a host of contingency plans were being looked at to deal with pollution and traffic and ensure Chinese regulations comply with international norms during the Games. The Beijing Morning Post report was the most detailed glimpse yet of the range of issues.

The newspaper said the city was considering hospitalizing all mentally ill people ``to avoid creating any harm to society,'' and expelling many of the city's 1 million migrant workers.

Zhou denied such a wide-scale expulsion order was on the table. He said ordering out the migrants was proposed by one of the advisers at the meeting, but that the newspaper report was incorrect.

The report underscores the sensitivities human-rights issues hold for China in its Olympic ambitions. Chinese leaders have promised that hosting the Olympics will improve respect for human rights. Privately, International Olympic Committee officials have warned Beijing officials that excessive social controls could mar the Games.

Beijing previously has enacted extraordinary measures to reduce the chances of protest or spruce up the grimy capital's appearance. In 1993, during its failed bid for the 2000 Olympics, Beijing expelled beggars, forced the handicapped to stay at home and closed smokestack industries when IOC inspection teams visited.

Some of the contingency plans might face legal hurdles. While the city has the authority to shut down heavily polluting factories on days of high pollution, it does not have the power to do so for the sake of a major event, the Beijing Morning Post said.

To deal with traffic congestion, the city may limit cars to driving every other day, with license plates ending in odd numbers allowed on some days and those with even numbers on the others, the report said. Olympic event ticket holders would be allowed free rides on public transportation to encourage them not to drive, the newspaper said.