World Expo A Bust

World Expo 2000 isn't turning into the blowout organizers expected—or needed—it to be.

Rather than attracting the tens of thousands of daily visitors event organizers desire to limit the festival's projected financial loss, so few of the common folk are showing up at Germany's first-ever world's fair that officials are already letting workers go.

A temporary employment firm that provides staff for souvenir stands and other jobs at the fair said Tuesday that 523 workers have been sent home already due to the lack of customers.

On top of the slumping attendance figures, the exposition is suffering from problems with the computer reservations system, which crashed when potential visitors trying to book tickets during the weekend overloaded the network.

"If this problem is not corrected quickly, there will be fatal consequences for the Expo," World Expo 2000 spokeswoman Wibke Bruhns said Sunday.

Organizers admitted that ticket sales to regular folks have not lived up to expectations since Thursday's grand opening. While they were hoping to have 261,000 paying visitors a day, daily attendance so far has averaged around 70,000.

Although protesters angry over the $1.8 billion spent on the five-month fair disrupted the first day by blocking a road and railway lines to the exposition grounds, 150,000 visitors toured the national displays and heard German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder declare the extravaganza "a great mixture of entertainment and educational possibilities."

Fair organizers were hoping for 25 million visitors by closing day Oct. 31, but are still expected to lose money overall.

"We're not happy with the number of visitors, especially on the second, third and fourth day," exposition director Reinhard Volk said earlier this week.

Losses for the first weekend could reach $5.7 million, he said, adding that "countermeasures" would be considered if things don't start picking up by the end of the week.

However, he ruled out cutting ticket prices, which range up to $42 each. Politicians, the German media and union organizations are suggesting Expo 2000 officials reduce the price to attract some of the lost traffic.

But Volk said the price is "absolutely market-justified" considering all the fair has to offer.

Carrying on a tradition begun in 1851, the international exposition features exhibits by 155 countries plus Germany. The United States is a no-show for the first time after failing to attract enough corporate sponsors for a pavilion.

The Dutch royal couple Tuesday stopped by the Expo to attend their country's national day ceremony. Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus attended celebrations at the pavilion for the Netherlands a day after the Dominican Republic observed the Expo's first national day.

Despite all the of planned celebrations, however, the exposition appeared troubled from the start.

On the day German President Johannes Racut a red ribbon and officially declared the Expo 2000 open, dozens of "Expo No" posters were visible around the entrance.

Many opening day visitors were delayed by protesters who laid burning tires on rail lines heading to Hanover from the north and south. Both stretches were blocked for up to 30 minutes.

About 30 protesters also briefly blocked a pedestrian bridge over an access road to the fairgrounds, chaining themselves together with bicycle locks. Some also lowered themselves on cords onto the street below, forcing officials to stop traffic for a time. Other demonstrators set about 30 trash containers on fire and damaged ticket machines.

Sixty-six protesters were temporarily detained, a police spokesman said. An additional 100 protesters were detained later in downtown Hanover when they occupied a small casino.

Small groups of protesters have campaigned against the Expo for weeks, charging that the money could have been better spent on Germany's cash-strapped education system.

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