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Commonwealth Games 2002

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SERVICES 
Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 12:44 GMT
Sandstorms choke Beijing
A security guard covers his face with his hand as he stands watch at a street junction in Beijing
Visibility was very poor for motorists
Beijing was hit by choking sandstorms on Wednesday, whipped up by high winds.

Pedestrians donned masks and fled for shelter and there were traffic delays as thick dust reduced visibility.

Chinese women wearing plastic bags to protect their hair and faces
Pedestrians tried to protect themselves
Meteorologists have blamed a winter drought and advised people to stay indoors to protect their lungs.

Sand storms are common in northern China at this time of year but this storm was one of the strongest to hit Beijing.

"It's awful, I can't breathe," said Riu Chunyuan, 23, a cargo service worker.

Environmental fears

The Chinese capital is now less than 250-kilometres from the encroaching desert, prompting alarm from officials and from the public.

A cyclist tries to cover herself with a scarf
Weather experts advised people to stay indoors
Experts have warned that sandstorms could be a major problem for Beijing when it hosts the 2008 Olympics, despite costly efforts to halt the desert's advance.

The government has pledged $6.8bn (56.8bn yuan) on an environmental programme which includes planting a green belt of trees around the capital.

Beijing was swathed in ghostly light on Wednesday as the sky turned from grey to yellow to orange.

The official Xinhua agency said the sandstorm was the strongest so far this spring, moving west to east across much of north China.

Visibility in some parts of Gansu, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia regions had dropped to below 50 metres, the agency said.

See also:

12 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
China launches major anti-pollution drive
15 Jul 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Beijing celebrates Olympic image
27 Feb 01 | Media reports
China on sandstorm alert
17 Nov 00 | Asia Pacific
China's environmental challenge
06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China battles against sand invasion
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