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. China premier predicts 'final victory' in weather war

China's Premier Wen Jiabao conveys his greeting to the stranded passengers at the Railway Station in China's southern city of Guangzhou. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Guangzhou, China (AFP) Feb 5, 2008
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said "final victory" was in sight with transportation returning to normal Tuesday after the worst winter in decades, but power outages remained a problem for millions.

Most trains were running according to schedule, while the main north-south expressway was also clear, meaning a huge backlog of passengers left stranded by weeks of blizzards and icy temperatures appeared to be easing.

"China is confident and capable in achieving the final victory in combating disasters incurred by low temperature, ice and heavy snow," the China Daily online edition reported, citing Wen.

"Electricity supply is gradually resuming and transport services are basically back to normal, and the country's production and life are in normal conditions," he was quoted as saying by the paper.

With just two days before the Lunar New Year, the most important festival on the Chinese calendar, there were signs at Guangzhou Railway Station in the south of China that the worst problems were over.

"This looks much better than the past few days, I really hope I'll be able to get on my train today," said one migrant worker, surnamed Liu, as crowds thinned markedly on Tuesday.

As of noon, service at two railway stations in Guangzhou was back to normal after 11 days of "chaos," the state-run Xinhua news agency said, citing the Guangzhou Railway Group Corp.

"About 3.5 million people had left ... by train by Tuesday noon, and basically, all the passengers who held tickets but had been stranded at different railway stations have left," a spokesman for the group told Xinhua.

Whereas over the weekend the police ordered passengers to wait outside the station building for fear of chaos inside, passengers for morning and mid-day trains here were allowed onto the platform on Tuesday.

"There were much fewer people today. The peak season is over now," one policewoman told AFP.

But unscrupulous scalpers still prowled the outskirts of the station, preying on thousands who had not managed to obtain tickets.

"They are thieves. The tickets were sold out long ago so we couldn't get them. Now I have no choice but to buy from these people," said one worker after paying double for tickets to Hubei province in central China.

"It's terrible for them to take advantage of people who need to go home," said another incensed worker, who also paid twice the usual fare.

Many migrant workers, who provide the muscle for southern China's export machine, realised they would not be able to go home for the Lunar New Year.

Instead, 12.5 million, or 40 percent of all migrants employed in Guangdong province, have decided to stay put and celebrate New Year in their dormitories, the China Daily newspaper reported.

Elsewhere in China, traffic was gradually returning to normal, bolstered by manpower from the People's Liberation Army.

One photo showed a soldier unconventionally de-icing a segment of road with a flamethrower.

In Chenzhou, a city of about four million in central Hunan province, residents braced for the 11th day of power blackouts and water cuts on Tuesday, Xinhua said.

Tens of thousands of workers were struggling to repair damaged power lines to get the lights back on in time for the Lunar New Year, according to the agency.

Almost all the airports in snow-affected regions have resumed operations, though heavy fog forced 47 flights to be cancelled and another 1,006 flights were delayed Monday, leaving 29,000 passengers stranded, Xinhua said.

The ruling Communist Party, which has so far portrayed the official response to the disaster as quick and resolute, said on Tuesday that officials who were found to have been lax would face "severe penalties."

"Officials' performances during the crisis... could mean promotion or punishment," Xinhua news agency said, quoting the party.

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Ticket scalpers thrive in China's frozen transport chaos
Guangzhou, China (AFP) Feb 5, 2008
Ticket scalpers were thriving Tuesday around Guangzhou Railway Station in south China, as thousands vied for scarce seats on trains heading out ahead of the most important holiday of the year.

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