More than fifty thousand people gathered on Saturday night at the Sports City in Beirut for the opening ceremony of the eighth Pan-Arab games, the first such event to be hosted by Lebanon since forty years.
President Elias El-Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Rafik El-Hariri, Arab-League secretary-general Esmat Abdel-Majid, International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and Saudi Prince Faysal Ben Fahed Ben Abdel Aziz were present for the opening. Some three thousand athletes representing nineteen Arab countries taking part in this event.
President Elias El-Hrawi spoke at the beginning of the ceremony. He said the decision of the Arab countries to hold the games in Lebanon affirmed their trust in the country's achievements, adding Lebanon would do its best to make the games a success. Hrawi also said: "From Lebanon we say to the world, the Lebanese have returned to their heritage and unity, they have returned to build a Lebanon for heroes, youth and peace. Prime Minister Rafik El-Hariri said opening ceremony marked the day when construction won over destruction and peace over war, adding Israel turned the Sports City into a cemetery but it has become a place for unity, peace, and Arab solidarity under President Elias Hrawi's mandate.
About 3,500 Lebanese students and more than a thousand Lebanese Army soldiers presented folklore shows and dances that represent the resurrection and unity of Lebanon from a the civil war that ended in 1990.
Army soldiers, clad in white, carried a Lebanese map while others wearing blacks tried to tear away its southern part, a reference to the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. There were a number of laser shows portraying images and scenes from Lebanon, and from Israel's 1982 invasion which destroyed the Sports City.
Students also presented a variety of dances representing the nineteen participating countries.
At the end of the ceremony fire works lit Beirut skies with fascinating displays of light and color. The games which began on July 11 include twenty-one sporting events.
The Sports City was one of twenty stadiums throughout Lebanon that were reconstructed and rehabilitated to host the Arab Games this year. After the ceremony the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Samaranch praised Lebanon for an excellent opening ceremony, adding Beirut, host to soccer's Asia Cup in the year 2000, was a very strong bidder for the Franco-phone games in 2001, for which Ottawa is also competing.
Source: Future Television
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