Fireworks, music and dancing marked the opening of the Beijing Olympics (photo, from parismatch.com), with some 10,000 performers taking part in the ceremony, that an estimated one billion people watched on TV, before athletes paraded around the national stadium.
After holding a pro-Tibet protest, three US activists were arrested in the Chinese capital, where security was tight. But in Nepal and India, larger rallies took place.
Since the Cold War era, it is the most politicised Games, say analysts.
Worries over pollution and criticism of China’s rights record has dogged the build-up of the event.
Several world leaders, such as US president George W. Bush, expressed concern over a crackdown on dissidents, putting pressure on Beijing to improve civil liberties.
But after the controversy of the run-up, the opening ceremony certainly changed the focus of attention.
Performers have been cheered by some 90,000 fans who packed the new national stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest because of its steel lattice construction.
The opening ceremony began at eight minutes past eight on the evening of 8 August, which shows the belief, widespread in Asia, that eight is a lucky number. It took seven years to plan the choreographed show, which costs are estimated to have hit a record-breaking $40bn.
And more than three hours after the beginning of the ceremony, the Games have officially been declared open by Hu Jintao, Chinese president,
The day’s activities ended in a theatrical way, with Li Ning, champion gymnast who was winched up to the rim of the stadium, carrying the Olympic torch, the end of its journey around the world.
With the torch, he lighted the Olympic cauldron, in the form of another huge torch, and an explosion of fireworks ensued.
In the same time, with an extra 100 000 troops and police that have been deployed in the capital, security has remained a pressing concern for the Chinese authorities, who closed off some areas, including the Tiananmen Square, which could provide a rallying point for protesters.
But on the morning of the opening ceremony, pollution remained a key concern for the Games, as fog obscured the Beijing skyline.
Air quality remained below World Health Organization (WHO) standards, suggested a BBC reading.
However heavy rain over the weekend would clear the skies, predicted Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Observatory, who warned that hazy conditions should not be confused with high levels of pollution.
Although he said that there was no danger to athletes’ health and praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts in order to cut pollution ahead of the Games, Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee president, said if the pollution was bad, events that lasted more than an hour could be shifted or postponed.
In other developments:
• Three US activists were detained while trying to mount a pro-Tibet protest near the national stadium, according to the Associated Press.
• A protester tried to set himself alight outside the Chinese embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara, as Chinese Muslims protested against alleged rights violations in China.
• An Air China flight bound for Beijing from Tokyo was forced to turn back after an Olympic-related bomb threat was received.
• Exiled Tibetans held angry protests in Nepal, with hundreds reported to have been arrested in the capital, Kathmandu.
• Hundreds of Buddhist monks tried to storm the Chinese embassy in Delhi, India, in protest at Beijing’s Tibet policies.