China acknowledges six have died building Beijing venues
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.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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