Beijing Olympics opening ceremony starts under cloud of Covid, rights fears
Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics began on Friday as China attempted to turn the page on a troubled build-up overshadowed by human rights concerns and Covid.
The lattice-shaped "Bird's Nest" stadium took center stage, just as it did at the 2008 Games - seen as China's coming-out party on the world stage - as Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.
The opening ceremony was attended by President Xi Jinping, under whose rule China has adopted a more muscular attitude internationally compared to 14 years ago.
Xi, who will declare the Games officially open, will be joined by more than 20 world leaders, including Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the two presidents having met earlier in the day.
China and Russia saw ties with Washington deteriorate markedly. With tensions rising in Europe over Russia's troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, Putin hailed the "truly unprecedented nature" of relations with his hosts.
The United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia are among countries staging a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China's rights record, particularly the fate of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
Their athletes will still compete at the Games, which run until February 20 and are taking place inside a vast "closed-loop" designed to thwart the virus.
Some spectators will be present at the opening ceremony at the 90,000-capacity "Bird's Nest," but it is unclear how many and, like sports events at the Games, tickets were not sold to the general public because of the pandemic.
The show is the mastermind of acclaimed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who was behind the 2008 extravaganza.
Zhang promised a "totally innovative" ceremony but conceded that the pandemic and freezing weather would limit its scale compared to the Summer Games when 15,000 performers participated in a lavish gala featuring opera singers, acrobats, and drummers.
This time about 3,000 performers will take part, and themes will include "environmental protection and low carbon emission."