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Beijing loosens fireworks ban during festival
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Beijing, which has the most stringent pyrotechnic restrictions in China, is loosening its strict fireworks ban during the Lunar New Year festival to allow fireworks in central downtown.

The municipal government allowed pyrotechnical firing on Sunday and Monday, the Chinese New Year's Eve and the New Year's Day, for the entire city, including the central downtown.

In the ten days following New Year's Day, revelers within the Fifth Ring Road are allowed to set off firecrackers from 7 a.m. to midnight. The Fifth Ring Road encompasses an area of 625 square kilometers in the Chinese capital.

The fireworks ban only resumes after Feb. 9, the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, also called Lantern Festival.

Vendors interviewed by Xinhua Sunday said that people were enthusiastic about purchasing big fireworks, including the miniature versions of the grandiose fireworks ignited at the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony on Aug. 8.

"They often asked whether we have 'big footprints' and 'big smiles' in our stock," said a vendor near the Workers' Stadium. His shop sells products manufactured by the same factory that supplied the Olympic pyrotechnics.

For safety reasons, Beijing has tight regulations on licensing for wholesalers, distributors and vendors in the trade. At least 750,000 cartons of fireworks were ordered for the Beijing market from workshops in both Hunan and Jiangxi -- all of which are strong competitors for the international market.

The government also asked Beijing's 2,196 vendors to strictly observe safety codes in transporting, stocking and trading fireworks.

The city's subway authority prohibits passengers carrying fireworks on the trains. Passengers bags are screened before entry.

This is the third year that Beijing conditionally loosens its total ban on lighting fireworks. The moratorium came in response to continual public complaint against the absolute no-fireworks policy enacted by the municipal government in 1993.

The 13-year-old ban was somewhat void, as most people honored the custom of welcoming new years by setting off fireworks, which are considered celebrative and fortunate.

The temporary moratorium on the ban roused the ire of environmentalists and people more concerned with safety than celebration. Some argue that igniting fireworks not only contributes heavily to air pollution but also triggers fire hazards.

Despite strict rules standardizing the manufacturing of fireworks, a few workshops are still under potentially dangerous operation. A Saturday explosion at an illegal fireworks factory in southwestern Guizhou Province killed at least six workers. Another five were killed in a similar accident two weeks ago in southern Guangdong Province.

(Xinhua News Agency January 25, 2009)

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