33,000 exterminators in Olympic bug battle

/ Source: The Associated Press

More than 33,000 exterminators have been dispatched to battle a locust infestation in northern China in hopes of preventing a potentially disastrous migration to Beijing during next month's Olympic Games, state media reported Tuesday.

The insects, which devour crops, routinely plague the Inner Mongolia region and have damaged 3.2 million acres of grassland in three areas near Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"To ensure a smooth Olympic Games and stable agricultural production, we have launched a full prevention plan to prevent and control further locust migration," Bao Xiang, the director of the badly hit Xilingol League grassland work station, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Under the plan, some 200 tons of pesticides, 100,000 sprayers and four airplanes were being used to kill the pests, Xinhua reported. The Ministry of Agriculture created a locust prevention and control plan for northern China in late May to prevent an infestation during the Olympics, Bao was cited as saying.

The locusts hatched in early June this year instead of July due to warmer and drier weather conditions, according to the government Web site of Hohhot, the regional capital. Inner Mongolia is home to one-fifth of China's grasslands.

It was not clear how serious of a threat the locusts posed to Beijing. There have been no reports of the pest flying from Inner Mongolia to the Chinese capital in recent years, Xinhua said.

Phones rang unanswered at the Ministry of Agriculture office in Hohhot after hours Tuesday.

The locust extermination campaign was the latest effort by Beijing to ensure that the Summer Olympics, which begin Aug. 8, are flawless.

The Chinese government has tightened visa procedures to keep out potential troublemakers and mobilized a 100,000-strong anti-terrorism force as part of its preparations.

Environmental problems were also a concern in the coastal city of Qingdao, which is hosting Olympic sailing events. An algae bloom has smothered coastal waters, and officials have mobilized 10,000 workers and 1,000 boats to clear the blue-green infestation.