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China acknowledges six have died building Beijing venues

1/28/2008

BEIJING -- Six workers have died building venues for the
2008 Beijing Olympics over the last five years, an acknowledgment
Monday that came after a series of clarifications by a Chinese
official.

Ding Zhenkuan, deputy chief of Beijing's Municipal Bureau of
Work Safety, initially told reporters no deaths had taken place at
the 91,000-seat National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest" and
the site for the opening and closing ceremonies.

He later said two died there and then added there were six
worker deaths in total at all sites, without elaborating on the
other four deaths.

It is not unusual in China for communist government officials to
make seemingly inaccurate or contradictory statements. Li Yizhong,
minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, said last week
he was unaware of work-related deaths on the project but promised
to investigate.

In Greece four years ago, Olympic protesters in Athens held a
memorial service for 13 workers killed during round-the-clock
construction for the 2004 Games.

The Sunday Times of London reported this month at least 10
workers had died at venues for the Beijing Olympics and said
Chinese officials were covering up the accidents.

The newspaper said Chinese authorities have covered up the
deaths and doled out large payments to guarantee the silence of
fellow workers who witnessed the accidents.

Ding said that on behalf of the organizers, he wanted to "make
it clear that there was no such case that 10 people died on the
Bird's Nest." Several minutes later he was asked to clarify his
first answer.

"The figure is not accurate," Ding said. "In the Bird's Nest
there were two incidents, one in 2006 and one is in 2007. The
deaths of two people are true. ... We have punished the related
personnel."

After the news conference, he again revised his answer, saying
six workers had died at all venues over the last five years. He did
not say where the other four deaths had taken place. He also said
there was one other injury that required hospitalization and three
that did not.

The Beijing Olympics are a source of tremendous national pride,
with government officials hoping to pull off a flawless show to
demonstrate China's political and economic power.

Organizers also have played down the seriousness of Beijing's
choking pollution, which could prompt some athletes to stay away
from the city until the last minute. International Olympic
Committee president Jacques Rogge has threatened to postpone some
outdoor events if the air quality is poor.