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In brief: Beijing’s air quality questioned

Wed., Dec. 7, 2011

Beijing – Whether it’s fog or smog, thousands of people have been delayed during the last few days by the almost-opaque air around Beijing Capital Airport.

The delays since Sunday evening at one of the busiest, most modern airports in the world raise questions about whether air pollution in China has gotten bad enough to derail the country’s economic growth. Nearly 1,000 flights have been canceled and 10 highways in northern China had to be closed due to lack of visibility.

Chinese authorities insist that the murk is fog, purely a weather phenomenon, acknowledging only that there was “light pollution.” The U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which has its own air monitor on the roof, however, reported Sunday night that the index of fine particulate matter had soared to 522 micrograms per cubic meter, which is off the charts. (A reading between 300 and 500 is considered “hazardous.”)

Beijingers bought more than 20,000 face masks on Taobao, a shopping site; and people took to the Internet to mock their government’s reporting of air quality.

Greek lawmakers approve hard cuts

Athens, Greece – Greece’s lawmakers overwhelmingly approved next year’s austerity budget early today, extending tough spending cuts that have already left Greeks struggling as the country tries to slash its vast debts and tame a severe recession.

With three parties, including the majority socialists and their rival conservatives, participating in Greece’s new coalition government, the budget was passed with a 258-41 majority in the 300-seat Parliament.

“This is a difficult budget … with ambitious targets,” Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told lawmakers just before the after-midnight vote. “But we must achieve our targets and implement the measures that are foreseen.”

Greece’s acute debt woes have triggered a Europe-wide crisis and the country is surviving on international rescue loans, released on condition it implements deeply resented cutbacks.


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