Olympic heart beats first at Tiananmen Square

Society Materials 8 August 2008 23:00 (UTC +04:00)

Thousands of Beijingers made their way to Tiananmen Square Friday night to count down the start to the 2008 Olympic Games, dpa reported.

While the Games were officially declared open by China's President Hu Jintao at 2336 local time (1536 GMT), the countdown clock in Tiananmen Square reached zero nearly four hours earlier for the start of the opening ceremony.

"Everyone counted down the last minute and chanted "Jia You Beijing" (Let's Go Beijing)," said Zhu Lu Wei, who had secured his place on the square by arriving in the early afternoon.

Thousands of others packed the neighbouring streets, virtually all of which had been sealed off by a huge contingent of police and army, obviously in an effort to ensure the numbers didn't get out of control.

Soldiers mostly simply refused entry while police said "you cannot go through" and attempted to point the throng in the direction of the single open entrance.

But with the crowds so dense, many had to satisfy themselves with a place on the edge of the square.

"It's because there are too many people here who want to be in the square and to see the clock," said Lu.

Any hopes that there would be a great fireworks display on show once the clocked reached zero failed to materialise as a single salvo was all that lit up the night sky.

Much of the early crowd began to dissipate shortly afterwards but many stayed on in the knowledge that more was to come as a section of the square had been sealed off to facilitate the setting up of a huge array of fireworks.

Beijing isn't used to having such large crowds congregating on the city thoroughfares and while there was no attempt to prevent the situation occurring, authorities certainly didn't seem to encourage the occasion, with no big screens available for public viewing of the opening ceremony.

This had the effect of making some people leave if they wanted to watch the lavish event, although some had the foresight to bring mobile televisions with them so that they could watch the event live from the National Stadium.

But there were still thousands of spectators in the area around midnight when the approximately 10-minute long firework display began simultaneously with the one at the Bird's Nest National Stadium.

Also in Tiananmen Square, the heart in the figure of the Beijing logo began beating to signify the start of a hectic couple of weeks of sport.

"The Olympics will give us a beautiful stadium and maybe it will give us more professional sportsmen," said Lu.

Many in China hope it will give a lot more.