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Thousands Stampede for Last of Olympics Tickets

BY Admin  July 25, 2008 at 1:00 PM EDT

Beijing police keep crowd behind fence; AP photo

Dozens of people were knocked to the ground and metal barricades broke during the rush.

“It was very dangerous. I was afraid,” Wang Zhenqiang, a businessman from eastern Shandong province, told the Associated Press. “People got hurt around me. They fell and injured their knees and elbows. A barricade was bent out of shape by the crowd.”

A mile-long line formed in the central Olympic area in anticipation of the ticket sale, with some waiting 48 hours for their last chance to grab a spot at the swimming, diving or basketball events.

Witnesses said scuffles broke out at one ticket site as officials opened additional sales windows at the last minute, causing some fans to stampede ahead of others in a bid to buy some of the 250,000 tickets that went on sale in different parts of the host city.

“It was so unfair,” said Ji Liqiang, who waited for 28 hours with Wang for a chance to buy tickets to the diving competition. “Those who came late but were able to push forward got the tickets,” he told the AP.

Gao Hongwei, who stood in line 36 hours for tickets to the diving finals, told Reuters his wait was a “harrowing” experience in which people fought over line-jumping and a lady fainted.

“Things got rough at 4 a.m. and a fight broke out,” said Gao, a 34-year-old real estate agent.

Police immediately took actions to maintain order, including limiting access to some areas.

Some journalists were escorted away after going into the off-limit areas, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Hong Kong television showed several journalists pushing back and forth with police.

Footage from Hong Kong Cable TV showed a policeman putting his arm around the neck of a Hong Kong Cable TV reporter and pulling him to the ground. The reporter said he was assaulted after his crew refused to leave a media zone.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials said Friday that Beijing’s air would be safe for Olympic athletes despite persistent smog over the city. The city’s chronic pollution has been one of the biggest worries for Olympic organizers and athletes.

“For the effects of the measures we have taken to be increasingly felt, we will have to make continued efforts,” Du Shaozhong, of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said at a news conference.

Beijing authorities have taken cars off the road and opened new subway lines in the past week, in addition to halting some construction and suspending factory production.

Starting July 1, the city banned 300,000 heavy polluting vehicles, such as industrial trucks. And from July 20 to Sept. 20, Beijing is alternating the days that its vehicles with even and odd registration numbers will be allowed on the road. Beijing has 3.3 million vehicles.

Du said the city experienced a 20 percent reduction in carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter — pollutants related to vehicle emissions — since the same period last year.

According to China’s Air Pollution Index, 22 days this month have been “blue-sky days,” Du said. The index, which is not internationally recognized, does not calculate the cumulative effect of different pollutants and omits several of them, experts say.