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Severe Beijing smog prompts unusual government openness

By Gillian Wong and Christopher Bodeen

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 10:50 p.m. MST

Cyclists travel on the road on a hazy day in Huaibei, central China, on Monday. Air pollution is a major problem in that nation.

Associated Press

BEIJING — One of Beijing's worst rounds of air pollution kept schoolchildren indoors and sent coughing residents to hospitals, but this time something was different about the murky haze: the government's transparency in talking about it.

While welcomed by residents and environmentalists, Beijing's new openness about smog also put more pressure on the government to address underlying causes, including a lag in efforts to expand Western-style emissions limits to all of the vehicles in Beijing's notoriously thick traffic.

"Really awful. Extremely awful," Beijing office worker Cindy Lu said of Monday's haze as she walked along a downtown sidewalk. But she added: "Now that we have better information, we know how bad things really are and can protect ourselves and decide whether we want to go out."

"Before, you just saw the air was bad but didn't know how bad it really was," she said.

Even state-run media gave the smog remarkably critical and prominent play. "More suffocating than the haze is the weakness in response," read the headline of a front-page commentary by the Communist Party-run China Youth Daily.

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