Beijing Olympics opening ceremony underway

Beijing - The opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics got underway with a fireworks display on Friday night, setting the stage for a three-hour extravaganza.

The 91,000-strong crowd in the National Stadium was due to be treated to a trip through Chinese history and culture with around 20,000 performers on a hot and sticky night.

The parade of a record 204 nations alone was due to last 1:50 hours in front of almost 90 state leaders featuring among others Chinese President Hu Jintao, US President Goerge W Bush and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin.

Hu was due to officially open the Games with the traditional formula: "I declare open the Games of Beijing celebrating the XXIX Olympiad of the modern era."

Before the concluding fireworks, the final torch bearer was due to light the Olympic cauldron with the flame lit on March 24 in ancient Olympia.

The Olympic flame travelled some 137,000 kilometres, mostly by air, over 130 days of international and Chinese torch relay legs, including a leg to the summit of Mount Everest.

The anti-Chinese government protests that dogged several international legs of the relay prompted some International Olympic Committee members to propose curtailing or ending the recent practice of holding international legs.

Security was tight all over Beijing and the international airport closed for the duration of the ceremony for security reasons.

Around 11,000 athletes from a record 204 nations will compete in 28 sports for 302 gold medals at the first Olympics in China and third in Asia, following Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988. (dpa)