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Lavish opening party for Games

Members of the New Zealand team perform a Maori "haka" at the ceremony  

MANCHESTER, England (CNN) -- In a lavish opening ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II received the baton which officially opened the 17th Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England.

The multi-million pound opening spectacle forged together Britain's traditions of pomp and circumstance with Manchester's own reputation as Britain's party capital.

Organisers turned the brand-new £110 million ($172m) City of Manchester stadium into one big nightclub, with 5,000 athletes and volunteers taking part in a riotous mix of music, dance and light.

Watching amid a massive security operation was, among other leaders of the 54-nation Commonwealth of mainly British ex-colonies, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair who earlier had toured the games village meeting the athletes.

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The actual games, which pitches combatants from 72 countries in 17 sports, had already got under way on Thursday in one event -- diving.

Clinching the first gold medal for Australia was Russian-born Irina Lashko when she won the women's one-metre springboard diving.

Poignant star of the opening ceremony was terminally ill six-year-old Kirsty Howard who was chosen ahead of Britain's top athletes to present the Games's baton -- the equivalent of the Olympic torch -- to Queen Elizabeth before a worldwide television audience of millions.

The Manchester girl was born with her heart back to front and needs an oxygen tank to breathe. Three years ago, doctors gave her six weeks to live.

Kirsty is no stranger to the spotlight -- having befriended England soccer captain David Beckham and his pop star wife "Posh Spice" Victoria.

Kirsty, who has raised £1.5 million ($2.4 million) for charity, was kitted out in a special Commonwealth Games uniform.

"The Commonwealth Games is all about determination and inner strength so Kirsty is the perfect person for this," Suzie Mathis, director of the Kirsty Appeal fund, told the UK's Press Association.

Sue Woodward, the Games' creative director, said the opening ceremony was designed to define the essence of Manchester. "We're robust, resilient and inventive -- and we also have a bit of an attitude," she said.

The signs are the games will be a huge success, with 500,000 visitors to the city expected over 10 days and events by Thursday 90 per cent sold out, bringing ticket revenues of more than £30 million ($47m).

But the colourful spectacle masked a massive anti-terror operation behind the scenes a day after a parliamentary report found Britain was ill-equipped to cope with an attack on the scale of September 11.

Footballer David Beckham presented the torch to Queen Elizabeth II  

Manchester's Assistant Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes told PA there had been no specific threat to the games but police were taking no chances.

More than 1,000 officers -- many armed -- are to be on the streets each day of the 10-day games while specialist search teams scour the city from the air, water and land for explosives or weapons. Those attending the sporting events will go through airport-style security.

During his tour of the games village, Blair said: "People have put in an amazing amount of work on this."

He added: "There are all sorts of difficulties when putting on such a huge sporting event as this but I think it is money well spent and we will get a big return in terms of jobs and investment."

Organisers say they expect the games to create 5,000 jobs and a £22 million ($34m) tourist boom.

Police did have one unexpected headache on Thursday -- thankfully a minor one.

Two Kenyan cyclists were stopped when they tried to train for the games on the busy M61 motorway where cars can reach speeds of up to 120 kph.

A Greater Manchester police spokeswoman said that police had received several calls about the pair.

She did not identify them but said they had been told by police that cycling on motorways is illegal in Britain.


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