Economics, politics dent Beijing's Olympic legacy

Fri Aug 7, 2009 1:24pm EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - A year after Beijing hosted a spectacular summer Olympics, China's capital sees more blue skies and less traffic jams, but economic crisis and sensitive political anniversaries have tarnished the post-Games halo.

The city spent billions of dollars on roads, subways, parks and a vast airport terminal in the build-up to the Games in August 2008. Polluting factories were shut down or moved to outlying provinces, and car use restricted.

"Beijing benefited greatly from the Games, which helped improve its infrastructure and urban ecosystem," Jiang Xiaoyu, a former senior official with the Olympic organizing committee, wrote in the China Daily this week.

"This lasting legacy will continue to play an important role in propelling the city's sustainable development," wrote Jiang, who was the public face of the organizers.

But the lasting legacy of improved infrastructure has not been matched by the environment and rights gains the government promised, say critics, pointing to the grey skies and overwhelming political controls that still exist.

Instead, they say, the government has stepped up its harassment of human rights activists in this sensitive year.

June marked 20 years since the bloody crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen square and in October Beijing will celebrate six decades since the founding of Communist China.

"The status quo is things are as bad, and in some specific areas worse, than they were last year," Phelim Kine, Asia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.   Continued...

<p>A Chinese worker excavates an area in front of the National Aquatics Centre, also known as the Water Cube, in Beijing August 6, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray</p>