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Beijing Makes Final Olympic Preparations Despite International Protests

Despite international protests against China's crackdown in Tibet, and concerns about pollution in Beijing, the Summer Olympic Games are sheduled to open in the Chinese capital in less than six months. VOA's Jim Stevenson takes a look at Beijing's final push ahead of what it hopes is a positive showcase to the world.

Beijing has been working hard to be ready to host the Summer Olympic Games this August. Construction across the vast capital has transformed the city, with many large buildings changing the skyline. Iconic Olympic venues anchor northern neighborhoods. There is the Water Cube for swimming events and the National Stadium, known as the Birds Nest because of its steel-lattice enclosure.

Even age-old wonders - the Great Wall to the north of the capital, and Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing -- have received facelifts in anticipation of the global attention and thousands of visitors during the Olympics.

Since the awarding of the games in 2001, the selection of Beijing has troubled many around the world, from human rights and free speech activists to the elite athletes themselves. But even with a fierce Chinese crackdown against protesters in Tibet, there have been few calls for an Olympic boycott. That makes logistical and health issues the primary concerns of many.

Getting around any host city is never easy. But gridlock in a city of 17 million residents will likely be hard to avoid, even if Beijing keeps open dedicated "Olympic traffic lanes" as promised.

August temperatures in Beijing average about 30 degrees Celsius with high humidity. And air pollution can range from minimal with so-called "blue sky days" to overwhelming with a milky fog enveloping the city. In some environmental surveys, Beijing has surpassed Mexico City as the world's most polluted city.

Beijing plans to help clear the air by taking cars off the road and curtailing factory work for several weeks leading up to and during the Olympics. Officials are expecting mass transit with buses and an expanded subway system to ease congestion and pollution. But problems could still arise if wind stirs up sand from the nearby Gobi desert.

The U.S. and other national teams are making preparations for all scenarios. The U.S. contingent will include about 1,000 people, including 600 athletes.

The Beijing Olympics open August 8 and run through the 24th.