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Severe Beijing smog prompts unusual government openness

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) 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.

Retirees play Taichi during their morning exercise on a hazy day in Fuyang city, in central China's Anhui province, Monday Jan. 14, 2013. Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country's rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard for environmental laws. (AP Photo)  CHINA OUT (Associated Press) Retirees play Taichi during their morning exercise on a hazy day in Fuyang city, in central China's Anhui province, Monday Jan. 14, 2013. Air pollution is a major problem in China due to the country's rapid pace of industrialization, reliance on coal power, explosive growth in car ownership and disregard for environmental laws. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT (Associated Press)

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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