Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 15:23 UK

Beijing faces Olympic challenges

Beijing pollution (good day, left, bad day, right)
Beijing still has some work to do on the quality of its air

With a month to go before the Beijing Olympics, China remains plagued by a number of problems including critical human rights reports and pollution.

A couple of new reports on China's human rights records have been released in the run-up to the games.

Separately, the BBC has found the Chinese capital, Beijing, is still failing to meet its promises on international air quality standards.

But Beijing says there is still time to get things right.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International published a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao urging five key improvements on human rights.

They include: releasing all prisoners held for expressing political views; stopping police detaining people during a pre-Olympics "clean-up"; and taking action on the death penalty including a moratorium on its use.

"I believe that delivering on these five points will go a long way towards the games being remembered not only for positive achievements on the sports field, but in the field of human rights as well," Amnesty's Secretary General Irene Khan said in the letter.

BBC Beijing correspondent James Reynolds

Beijing's air will be fundamental to the success or failure of this city's Games
The BBC's James Reynolds

On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said China continued to severely breach its pledge to allow full media freedoms for the games.

"The gap between government rhetoric and the reality for foreign journalists remains considerable," the US-based group said in a report released on Monday in Hong Kong.

"During a period when reporting freedoms for foreign journalists in China should be at an all-time high, correspondents face severe difficulties in accessing 'forbidden zones'."

These are geographical areas and topics which the Chinese government considers sensitive and thus off-limits to foreign media, including Tibet, HRW said.

Air pollution

Beijing is also failing to meet international air quality standards, the BBC has found. When Beijing bid for the Olympics in 2001, it said its air would meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

Pollution graphic
Tuesday 8 July 2008
Readings measure particulate matter (PM10) - tiny particles in the air mainly caused by burning fossil fuels.
BBC reading: 248 micrograms/cubic metre
Beijing reading: 95 micrograms/cubic metre

The BBC put this to the test using a hand-held detector to test for airborne particles known as PM10.

We found that the city's air failed to meet the WHO's air quality guidelines for PM10 on six days out of seven.

These particles are caused by traffic, construction work and factory emissions. They are responsible for much of this city's pollution.

On one of these days, the pollution reading was seven times over the WHO's air quality guideline.

By comparison, recent readings done in London - the site of the 2012 Games - all fall within the WHO's guidelines.

Beijing insists that there is still time to get things right.

Later this month, it is imposing a series of emergency air-quality measures which will take cars off the streets and shut down building sites.

One official has told the BBC that he is confident that Beijing will still fulfil its clean air promise.

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