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Games begin, but are ‘most restrictive ever’

Tiananmen Square in the iconic heart of Beijing was temporarily barred for entry hours ahead of China’s coming out party, which began like no other in the history of the Olympic Games. Reshma Patil reports. Beijing Olympics 2008

world Updated: Aug 18, 2008 12:25 IST

Tiananmen Square in the iconic heart of Beijing was temporarily barred for entry hours ahead of China’s coming out party, which began like no other in the history of the Olympic Games.

The opening ceremony was mesmerising, from the invocation of muses to traditional beliefs, showcasing China’s march into a new era.

Beijing woke up on Friday to a thick security cover cordoning off the Olympic venues, with over one lakh security officials and volunteers to curb any protest or security threat. Hidden from the half a million visitors expected from August 8-24 were thousands of surveillance cameras.

The costliest-ever opening ceremony at the National Stadium amid 90 heads of state and 91,000 fans, was also the opening of the most controlled Games, watched by spectators instructed in official behaviour rules.

Dissidents have been rounded up to ensure an ‘orderly’ Games. And this week, Beijing revoked the visa of US winter Olympic medallist and Darfur activist Joey Cheek.

On the afternoon of Beijing’s big day, HT strolled into Ritan Park, an official protest zone where not a single group was demonstrating, except a media group arguing with staff to let them use a satellite phone.

The park, where emperors once held sacrifices, is one of Beijing’s three protest zones selected far from the Olympic venues for ‘approved’ protests. “These are the most restrictive Games in history,” Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said from Hong Kong.

But the opening of the Olympic Games, on which China has spent $43 billion (Rs 1.85 lakh crore), made a grand statement of a 5,000-year civilisation moving on with a new globalised China. “The Beijing Olympics is an opportunity not only for China but also for the whole world,” said President Hu Jintao at a pre-Games banquet.

Before the opening ceremony, thousands of Chinese flooded around Tiananmen Square to watch 30,000 fireworks light the sky. The last time the world’s largest city square became the centre of global attention was in 1989 during a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy Chinese students.

This time, the students shouted ‘Go China’.