BEIJING (Reuters) - Unwashed, unfed and lacking sleep, tens of thousands of Chinese shouted, pushed and shoved for their last chance at Olympic tickets on a hot and smoggy Friday, threatening to break through heavy police cordons.
Ticket hopefuls and security officials screamed back and forth as tempers flared just two weeks before the Beijing Games begin on August 8.
Loudspeakers blared over and over, telling people to queue patiently as minor scuffles broke out in the crowd and between reporters and police who struggled to keep order.
Hong Kong television showed police shoving reporters as they tried to clear an area near the ticket booths.
Police detained a photographer from the South China Morning Post, the Hong Kong-based newspaper said, and destroyed reporters’ cameras and equipment.
“The Hong Kong reporter, surnamed Wong, did not obey police orders and broke through temporary barricades to take photos,” Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed spokesman from the Beijing municipal government information office as saying.
Wong had kicked a police officer in the groin, Xinhua said, citing the spokesman.
A reporter at the newspaper said Wong had been released unharmed.
A police spokesman estimated the crowd at more than 40,000, and said officials were doing everything they could “to keep the situation calm”.
Even before dawn broke, some people tried to charge the gate, prompting a swift response from officials, witnesses said.
Police ejected a number of people from the queue for being too pushy and detained at least one other.
Prospective buyers have been limited to two tickets at the same competition, but officials have promised the last tranche holds tickets for events at every venue, if not every event.
Many want tickets for an event in the National Stadium, dubbed the Bird’s Nest, or the Water Cube, the two showpiece stadiums that have changed Beijing’s landscape.
Tickets for a raft of events had already sold out at booths around the city by 4:00 p.m. (9 a.m. British time), including popular diving and football competitions, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) said in a statement on its website.
One man surnamed Lei, from the eastern province of Anhui, was rewarded for his two-day wait in line with tickets to the final of the 110 m hurdles.
“I just feel so lucky to be able to see Liu Xiang run at the Olympics,” said Lei, 24, referring to the Chinese hero and defending champion.
“It’s been tough, it’s very hot, but it’s worth it to participate in the Olympics,” said Wang Zongmao, 73, who also queued for two days to secure tickets to a diving event.
Long queues had already formed by Wednesday afternoon, a day after Olympic organisers announced the final tranche of 820,000 tickets would go on sale.
By Thursday, 10,000 people had formed a line snaking hundreds of metres away from the booth that opened on Friday, many hunkering down inside tents or under umbrellas to shelter from the 35 degree Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) heat.
Police threw bottles of water into the crowd, dozens of ambulances stood by to come to the aid of those in line, and the hundreds of police and paramilitary People’s Armed Police personnel were also feeling the strain.
Tickets for the Games range in price from 5,000 yuan (369 pounds) for the opening ceremony to just 30 yuan for the softball preliminaries.
Beijing’s sale of the 7 million-plus Olympic tickets on offer has been swift, but not without incident. Prospective buyers complained on blogs and chat-rooms of not being able to complete purchases after the third batch of tickets was released in May.
The former Olympic ticketing chief was sacked last November after the ticketing website crashed on the opening day of the second round of sales.
Authorities are also going after scalpers. The Beijing News said 44 had been detained, including one who had been selling 50 yuan tickets for a basketball match for 5,000 yuan.
(Writing by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)