Frenetic rush as India readies for Commonwealth Games

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Mohammed Zaidi works with a jumble of cables in one of the apartments built at breakneck speed for athletes who will compete at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in one month's time.

"We're almost there," the electrician says at the Games Village, which offers 4,000 bedrooms in about 1,000 apartments on a new site beside the Yamuna river.

The village is a hive of activity, with swarms of workers and engineers sprucing up the 157-acre (635-hectare) complex ahead of the opening ceremony on October 3. The first athletes are expected to move in within weeks.

"It'll be a home away from home as athletes and officials will find everything a person may need - from a toothbrush upwards," Ashok Kapur, chief complex administrator, told AFP.

Besides the air-conditioned apartments, the village has a 2,300-seater dining hall which will dish out 22,000 meals a day, a large training zone and an Olympic-sized pool.

"The menu will contain cuisines to meet religious and nutritional needs of all the athletes," a catering official said, though he confirmed no beef would be served, in line with Hindu religious beliefs.

The village also boasts a discotheque, open-air cinema, multi-faith shrines and a bus depot, which promises glitch-free travel to 12 Games venues along special lanes to cut through New Delhi's choked traffic.

The apartments, which will be sold to private owners after the Games, appear in good shape but their muggy, riverside location has concerned some athletes.

The Press Trust of India said on Thursday that 24 of 71 participating nations and territories had sought assurances after more than 1,000 cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever were diagnosed in the city.

"There is nothing to worry as all measures are being taken to contain the outbreak," Delhi 2010 secretary-general Lalit Bhanot said this week.

But the list of other worries facing organisers is long: among them are building delays, untested facilities, public apathy, rocketing costs, corruption allegations and security fears.

Much of the capital still resembles a construction site, with dug-up roads, unfinished flyovers and rubble-strewn sidewalks.

Frantic efforts are ongoing to finish new metro stations and to repair stadiums and landscaping damaged by the heaviest monsoon rains in 15 years.

"If there is more rains, schedules might get disrupted. We are worried," Sports Minister M.S. Gill said on Wednesday.

Serious concern about whether venues will be able to meet international standards has focused on the athletics stadium, the swimming pool and the weightlifting arena.

But staff at some smaller sites are optimistic.

Carmal Wright, an Australian consultant, has lived in Delhi for a year supervising the 5,000-seater, 66-million-dollar netball venue where 12 teams will compete in the all-women tournament.

"It will be a world class event," she told AFP during a site visit.