Blue Skies in Beijing, but Storms On the Horizon

 Beijing basked under another blue sky Sunday five days before the Games' opening ceremony, but forecasters warned of storms ahead as Olympic head Jacques Rogge fended off the IOC's own dark clouds.

Worries that Beijing's normal blanket of heavy smog would disrupt endurance events dissipated with the third consecutive day of blue skies, as weather officials said drastic anti-pollution measures had helped clear the air.

But any relief from the haze was replaced by concerns that thunder and heavy rain would hit the city on the day of the opening ceremony, when world leaders will join the crowds at the National Stadium to welcome the athletes and light the Olympic flame.

Organisers have repeatedly said rain -- and not smog -- is their biggest worry ahead of the ceremony, which will feature more than 10,000 performers and a massive fireworks display.

Two volunteers walk amongst apartment blocks at the Olympic village in Beijing July 27, 2008.

But top officials from the Beijing Meteorological Bureau confirmed Sunday that bad weather was certain for August 8, although they held out hope that the skies may clear by the time the ceremony begins in the evening.

"Specifically on the 8th, the weather in Beijing will be cloudy and overcast and we will see some rain showers and thunder showers," said Wang Jianjie, deputy director of the bureau.

Wang also warned that co-host cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Qingdao could be hit by typhoons heading in from the Pacific Ocean during the 8-24 Games.

The clear skies above Beijing that have surprised many residents in recent days were a result of favourable weather conditions and drastic high-profile anti-pollution measures, Wang said.

"Good weather has a great deal to do with the natural conditions but whether this can be maintained has a lot to do with our pollution control measures because they also have a lot to do with the improvement," she told reporters.

One million of the city's 3.3 million cars have been taken off the roads and more than 100 heavily polluting factories and building sites closed down in recent weeks as Beijing tries to prevent any cancellation of endurance events.

Meanwhile, Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, tried to defuse the row over Internet censorship for foreign reporters and insisted he thought Beijing would host an outstanding Games.

Rogge said that no deal had been cut with Chinese authorities to allow censorship of sensitive sites, after journalists arrived this week to find they could not access a wide range of websites.

"The conditions you were working in on Tuesday were not good," Rogge told reporters late Saturday.

However, he stopped short of apologising, saying that many of the sites had since been unblocked and a list of others were being examined with Beijing organisers.

"I am not going to make an apology for something that the IOC is not responsible for. We are not running the Internet in China," said Rogge, who had previously promised unfettered Internet access for foreign reporters.

Rogge compared the organisation of the Beijing event favourably with Athens four years ago, which was beset by worries over whether the venues would be completed in time for the Games.

"Today we have absolutely no concern for the organisation," he said.

"I am sure that come the 9th of August, the day after the opening ceremony, the magic of the Games and the flawless organisation will take over," he added.

The Olympic torch relay passed through the earthquake-devastated region of Sichuan on Sunday as part of its global journey to Beijing, which included protest-marred legs in Paris and London.

Sichuan is still recovering from the effects of the 8.0-magnitude quake that ripped through the area on May 12, leaving around 87,000 people dead or missing.

Source AFP

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