Athletes' village opens as China raises flag
BEIJING (Reuters) - The Olympic village, which will house 16,000 athletes and officials during next month's Beijing Games, was officially opened by its mayor Chen Zhili on Sunday morning.
Chen, a senior Communist Party official, was handed the key to the heavily-guarded compound by Beijing Olympic chief Liu Qi during a ceremony held under skies still grey with the pollution that China has promised to clear in time for the August 8-24 Games.
"The Olympic village has prepared everything and we warmly welcome the athletes, officials and journalists from all nations and regions to live here," said Chen, who is also a vice president of the organizing committee (BOCOG).
China was the first delegation to take residence by raising its flag at the village, with NBA All Star Yao Ming and high hurdles world champion Liu Xiang among the hundred or so athletes present to witness the event.
The 42 newly-built apartment blocks can house 17,000 people in 9,000 rooms but officials say 1,000 fewer than that total will take up occupancy during the Games.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge will have a room in the village, while mayor Chen will live in a traditional Beijing "Siheyuan," or courtyard.
"This Olympic village has distinctive Chinese features, including a centre where athletes can learn Chinese as well as folk arts like kite-making," said Deng Yaping, the former Olympic table tennis champion who is deputy director of the village.
"It's been quite a challenge for us, we have to get to know everybody's living habits, lifestyle, religions, cultural background."
Religion is tightly controlled in China but adherents of all the world's major religions will be able to practice their faiths at the village's services centre.
China has said that terrorism is the single biggest threat to the success of the Games and no efforts have been spared to ensure the athletes will be safe from the kind of attack that marred the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Then, Palestinian terrorists jumped over the walls of the village and took Israeli athletes hostage. Eleven died during the attack and a botched rescue attempt.
The Beijing village is enclosed by a wall and two lines of high security fencing and strict credential and bag checks are carried out on anyone trying to gain entry.
"We will satisfy all the villagers and create a safe, convenient, warm and harmonious home for them," said Guo Jinlong, the mayor of the city of Beijing.
(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Ed Osmond)
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