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Qingming crowds hit road earlier
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About 500,000 locals went to graveyards around the city to pay homage to their ancestors over the weekend, two weeks ahead of the traditional Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Festival.

The cemetery and funeral management division with the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau announced nearly 180,000 people joined the tomb-sweeping crowd on Saturday. The figure further rose to 323,000 people yesterday.

"Weather conditions were a big reason for the traffic volume surge," said a division official surnamed Gao, explaining that Chinese people were accustomed to go tomb-sweeping on clear days.

Officials said the figure was fewer compared with the same period last year, but still caused traffic problems. The bureau announced earlier as many as seven million people, with about 520,000 vehicles, were expected at tomb-sweeping.

Peak days were expected on April 4 to 6, the three-day Qingming Festival holidays.

"Traditionally, traffic volume peaks will appear on weekends before and after the Qingming Festival," Gao said. "But since people now have a day off for the festival from this year, it'll be natural for these holidays to become the top choices."

While the weekend turnout was smaller than expected, the city's traffic still experienced difficulties. Hundreds of vehicles clogged the Jiangqiao toll gate for the expressway connecting Shanghai and Nanjing, capital of neighboring Jiangsu Province, from 7 am on Saturday. The vehicle queue lasted five kilometers and it was not until 11 am that the traffic pressure was eased.

Zhang Qiang, one of the tomb sweepers, said he had expected traffic jams and was prepared to wait.

Inside cemeteries, plastic bags and rubbish discarded by tomb-sweepers caused environmental problems, despite eco-friendly garbage bags being supplied at some locations, officials said.

(China Daily March 25, 2008)

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