Beijing set for lavish Olympic opening ceremony

After years of preparation and months of never ending controversy, the Beijing Olympics finally get under way this evening in what is being billed at the most lavish opening ceremony in the history of the games. An estimated 3 billion people are expected to tune into the festivities.

The five-hour opening ceremony will be lit up by a fireworks display designed by the Chinese installation artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Cai is known for his so-called "Explosion Works", which utilise gunpowder and fire to create his trademark pyrotechnic displays.

A selection of the world's leading politicians, including George Bush, Vladimir Putin, Hamid Karzai and Nicolas Sarkozy, are in Beijing to witness the ceremony. Gordan Brown and Angela Merkel will be the most notable absentees, although Tony Blair will be there to hog the limelight.

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