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Beijing Olympics open with epic spectacle

August 08, 2008

OLY-OPENING:WA--Using a cast of thousands, China set out to impress the world Friday night with a high-tech, fireworks-filled opening ceremony to an Olympic Summer Games heightened by China's patriotic ambitions and controversy over the country's environmental problems and human rights record.

Some 91,000 people filled the landmark National Stadium on a hot, humid night under an opaque pall of haze while some 15,000 performers flew through the air and swirled in geometric formations on the stadium floor.

More than 80 world leaders and royalty took in the spectacle, including President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush's visit marked the first time a U.S. president has attended the games in a foreign country.

Despite Chinese fears of unwelcome political protests, none of the nearly 11,000 athletes from 204 nations strayed from the host country's script as they marched into the stadium. By midnight Friday night, the athletes filled the stadium floor and gawked together at the nearly 30,000 fireworks shells set off around the stadium.

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