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Beijing assures Olympic security as 2022 bid inspections end

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BEIJING (AP) Chinese officials said Friday they can provide a secure environment for a Winter Olympics in Beijing, as IOC evaluators wrapped up their five-day inspection tour of the city's 2022 bid.

Bid official Zhang Jiandong said Beijing had a proven track record in providing security for the millions of visitors and thousands of events the city hosts annually.

''China is a very safe country,'' Zhang said at a daily briefing. ''The Chinese government has always attached great importance to fighting terrorism and our experience from the 2008 Beijing Olympics has been consistently enhanced.''

As the capital of a tightly-controlled one-party communist nation, Beijing has one of the lowest crime levels of any major world city, although separatists fighting Chinese rule in northwestern China have targeted the city on at least one occasion, including a vehicle ramming attack at Tiananmen Gate in 2013 that killed two tourists and three attackers. Hundreds have died in attacks blamed on separatists in recent years, almost all of them in the far western region of Xinjiang that borders volatile Central Asia.

Zhang said Beijing's police would work jointly with state security bodies and cooperate with other countries and Interpol on collecting intelligence and analyzing threats.

Zhang's comments followed the conclusion of presentations and site inspections by the 19-member IOC evaluation commission, whose members depart Saturday following a closing news conference. They will then turn to compiling their recommendations and present them in a June report.

The inspection is a key test of Beijing's status as the front-runner in the bid race against Almaty, Kazakhstan. Beijing is also vying to become the first city in history to host both the summer and winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city on July 31 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Inspectors on Thursday visited the Zhangjiakou ski area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the city where Beijing plans to hold the Nordic events, along with free style skiing, snow boarding and biathlon. As a further enticement to television audiences, some of those venues would lie at the base of a western section of the Great Wall of China.

Although the venues' distance from Beijing has been a concern, organizers say a high-speed rail line now under construction will reduce the current three-hour travel time to just 50 minutes.

While the air quality in the rural ski venues has not been an issue, Beijing's notorious pollution reared its ugly head during the visit, with the benchmark PM2.5 air quality reading topping 150 all week, a level more than six times what the World Health Organization considers safe.

Beijing plans to tackle the problem by closing factories and coal-fired power plants and retiring heavily polluting vehicles.

Beijing's bid received a morale boost from former England soccer captain David Beckham, a brand ambassador for China's top-flight Super League who, along with his fashion designer wife Victoria, is a regular visitor to city.

''I wish them good luck,'' Beckham was quoted as saying by China's official Xinhua News Agency. ''Because I know how passionate the people are in this country for life and for sport, so good luck of course.''