by Charles WhelanFri Jun 20, 3:01 AM ET
Beijing will ban more than one million cars from the streets during the Olympics in an effort to curb pollution and ease traffic gridlock, the government confirmed Friday.
Cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates will be ruled off the roads on alternate days for two months starting July 20, the Beijing government said in a notice posted on its website.
Also, 70 percent of all government cars and vehicles owned by state-run enterprises will be banned under the measure announced seven weeks ahead of the opening ceremony for the August 8-24 Games.
The ban is aimed at cutting air pollution and alleviating chronic traffic congestion, the government notice said.
Beijing is one of the world's most polluted cities and vehicle emissions from more than three million cars are chiefly to blame for poor air quality, which represents one of the biggest challenges to the successful staging of the Games.
International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge has warned that endurance events, such as the marathon, may be postponed to protect athletes from the effects of pollution.
Already, some of the 10,000 athletes coming to the Olympics have expressed concerns about the health impact of competing in the capital city.
Ethiopian distance great Haile Gebrselassie, who suffers from asthma, has said he had no intention of "committing suicide" by running the marathon here.
Beijing underwent a four-day trial ban on cars in August 2007, prohibiting one million cars from the roads. The air quality, however, did not appear to show a marked improvement.
Heavy smog has become a characteristic feature of Beijing, but government officials maintain that air quality has been improving steadily for years thanks to a 20-billion-dollar environment cleanup campaign launched in 1998.
Du Xiaozhong, deputy director of the city's environmental protection bureau, said recently that in addition to the car ban, heavily polluting factories would be shut down during the Games and work on Beijing's thousands of building sites would be restricted.
The car ban was also aimed at easing the legendary traffic snarl-up in a city that sees an additional 1,200 new cars on the roads every day, according to the city government.
Under the ruling, all private cars will be affected by the odd-even driving ban and 70 percent of central government and Beijing city vehicles will be kept off the roads.
Police and emergency services vehicles, as well as public transport and taxis, will be excluded.
Drivers who respect the ban will be rewarded with road tax reductions, the government statement said, while violators will face punishment "under the law" and also lose the tax cut.
Coinciding with the car ban confirmation, the government said petrol and diesel prices will rise by more than 16 percent from Friday to close the gap with soaring international oil prices.