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Asian Winter Games officially open

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The seventh edition of the Asian Winter Games was officially opened on Sunday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in a spectacular three-hour ceremony staged at the city's indoor football stadium.

The event curtain-raising show began with a dramatised performance based on traditional Kazakh epic poems accompanied by a group of ethnic drummers, which was followed by a volley of red fireworks.

The procession of the athletes continued the performance under the watchful gazes of the International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge, Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev and several other heads of Asian states.

The Games participants, who paraded in front of a capacity 30,000 local crowd at the arena were all given warm receptions, but that was nothing compared to the deafening welcoming roar, when the hosts' team entered the stadium last by tradition.

Kazakh opera diva Nurzhamal Usenbaeva performed a song especially composed for the Games opening an impressive show that involved more than than 700 actors and dancers including Belgian singer Lara Fabian.

Nazarbayev than officially declared the Games open after the Olympic Council of Asia flag was hoisted.

The Olympic torch relay, which had criss-crossed the country during January, arrived at its final destination at the Astana Arena, with a group of the country's most decorated sports veterans jointly lighting the Games flame.

That triggered another barrage of fireworks that lit up the night sky of the Kazakhstan capital.

More than 1,100 competitors from 27 countries will contest 65 titles in 11 categories, with the events staged in the country's two biggest cities -- Almaty and Astana -- between January 30 and February 6.

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