Colourful start to Pan American Games

SANTO DOMINGO (Dominican Republic): The Dominican Republic's big show is under way. 

Before a near-capacity crowd of 18,000 at the Olympic Stadium, the Pan American Games officially kicked off on Friday night with the opening ceremony, a spectacular exhibition featuring some 10,000 performers. 

Local baseball heroes Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez were on hand for the ceremony involving dancers, singers and Dominican artists. Marichal, the only Dominican in the Hall of Fame, lit a small torch in the middle of the field. 

Then Luis Pujols, the nephew of the San Francisco Giants coach of the same name, and dressed in a Dominican baseball uniform, swung a bat at a baseball sitting atop the mini-flame. That triggered a wire extending across the stadium to the games cauldron, which then ignited to resounding cheers. 

Earlier, entertainers in colourful costumes ranging from skeletons to men in tuxedoes and top hats danced through the field, typifying a Dominican carnival. Festive music symbolizing all the nations of the Western Hemisphere played through the ceremony. 

“It's the best day of my life,'' said Elias Parra, 13, who attended with his best friend, Melbi Jil, 12. “We've never had this event in my country.'' 

Or anything like it. 

The Caribbean nation spent US$175mil and the total could reach nearly twice that amount for the 17-day sporting event. There have been complaints about the quality of facilities and the construction delays that forced labourers to work right up until Friday night's opening. 

About 6km from the sports complex, police used tear gas to break up a march by hundreds of Dominicans protesting their government's economic policies. No serious injuries were reported, though some marchers were affected by the tear gas. 

The march was to call attention to the way in which impoverished areas have been neglected. – AP  

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