|Thick smog continues to cast a cloud over Beijing's Olympic plans [EPA]|
Beijing has just squeezed through its self-declared goal of 245 "blue sky days" for 2007 in the final days before the 2008 Olympic Year.
A much-needed cold front at the weekend scattered the foggy haze that often shrouds the Chinese capital and remains a key worry ahead of next year's games.
The break in the smog followed one of the worst air quality days of the year on Thursday, when visibility plummeted and officials warned residents to stay indoors to protect their health as pollution hit a maximum "5" reading.
Soaring car ownership, factory emissions, dust storms and a massive pre-Olympic building boom have all contributed to spiralling levels of pollutants in Beijing as well as other cities across China.
|Soaring car ownership is one factor |
adding to pollution [EPA]
Eager to avoid embarrassment, Chinese Olympic organisers have promised clear skies and clean air for the 2008 Olympics, due to open on August 8.
But residents say several days in 2007 have been declared "blue sky" days despite obviously hazy conditions.
In August the issue prompted Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, to warn that some endurance events, such as the marathon, may be cancelled or postponed to prevent harm to athletes if pollution levels persist.
Chinese officials say they have several contingency measures in place to ensure clean air for the Games, including a ban on new building projects, planned closures of factories and possible restrictions on car use.
Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijing's environment protection authority, told the official Xinhua news agency at the weekend that the capital was aiming for at least 256 "blue sky" days, in 2008, or 70 percent of the days of the year.