Thu, Nov 02, 2006 - Page 4 News List

African show thins streets

SUMMIT Beijing's notorious traffic congestion was eased for the sake of visiting African leaders, and officials said a temporary ban on cars would help the Olympics

AFP , BEIJING

Hundreds of thousands of drivers yesterday heeded official calls to stay off Beijing's busy streets for a high-profile summit in what is seen as a rehearsal for 2008 Olympic traffic-control efforts.

Traffic was lighter than normal yesterday in this city of 15 million notorious for its traffic jams, as a six-day ban on most government vehicles taking to the road got under way.

At least 490,000 vehicles from the government's fleet stayed in the garage, according to the Beijing Traffic Management Bureau.

At least 250,000 private drivers also heeded the call, aimed at preventing delegates here for a China-Africa Cooperation Forum summit from getting ensnared in traffic, state media said.

Members of hundreds of motor clubs in the Beijing area pledged to stay off the road or minimize their driving during the summit, the Beijing Daily reported.

Beijing has nearly 3 million registered motor vehicles, including nearly 2 million private cars, and the number is increasing by more than 1,100 a day, state media reported last month.

Xinhua news agency described traffic in Beijing as at "crisis point."

China, which has been on a recent drive to increase its influence in Africa and its access to the continent's energy resources, is pulling out all the stops to impress delegations from 48 African nations for this weekend's summit.

Huge banners and billboards emphasizing Sino-African friendship have been put up for what the Chinese media have hailed as the highest-profile international gathering in China since 1949.

But the Beijing Daily also said this week's traffic measures were a "high-level rehearsal for the Olympic Games."

The measures also include a ban on taxis using the expressway linking the city with its airport.

Chinese authorities have said previously they intend to take short-term measures during the Olympics to ensure the roads are not congested while the Olympic spotlight shines on the city.

Beijing has hinted it may ban some cars from the streets and ration gas.

A senior official with the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee told reporters last week that the city was considering establishing special Olympic traffic lanes.

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