Hu opens Special Olympics, pledges to help handicapped
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
Beijing resolves to do more for underprivileged classes
Shanghai yesterday played host to the start of the Special Olympics with President Hu Jintao presiding over the ceremony as China prepared to hold the Beijing Olympics next year.
It marks the first time the Special Olympics, intended for people with intellectual disabilities, is being held in Asia. The Games will end on October 11.
Beijing has given strong support to the event because it sits well with government efforts to promote social harmony amid rapid economic development.
'This will be a grand gathering to showcase human dignity and love,' Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng said.
Mr Hu declared the Games open but made no other statement.
Meeting Special Olympics officials earlier, Mr Hu vowed to do more to assist the mainland's 83 million people with physical and intellectual disabilities so they could share in the benefits of development, part of his political platform of paying more attention to the underprivileged.
'We have taken a series of important measures to strengthen work to safeguard the rights and interests of disabled people,' Mr Hu told the chairman of the Special Olympics, Timothy Shriver, and the organisation's founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
'We will as always pay attention to and support the cause of disabled people, fostering the spirit of humanitarianism,' he said, adding this meant finding more ways for them to enter society.
In Shanghai and other cities, governments have set up training centres which aim to provide work and living skills to people with mental disabilities.
The mainland has at least 9.8 million people with intellectual disabilities, according to state media.
Some are abandoned by their parents at an early age, while others are confined to home or institutions.
During the three-hour opening ceremony, organisers showcased Chinese culture using traditional music and fireworks with a series of famous hosts, including singer Karen Mok Man-wai and actor Colin Farrell.
Rockets had been used to induce rainfall at 13 sites outside the city to guarantee good weather for the ceremony.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger marched with the US team and praised China's efforts to increase the number of its athletes at the event.
Mr Schwarzenegger, who was associated with the event through his wife's family, took a four-day break from a special legislative session he had called to tackle California's health care and water problems, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Earlier, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo met Mr Hu after her government suspended a broadband project with mainland telecommunications company ZTE Corporation amid allegations of bribery.
Mr Hu told Mrs Arroyo that relations between the two countries were 'very good' and said China would like to continue building economic and trade ties, Xinhua reported.
Mr Hu also met the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, and urged the island to agree to a free-trade agreement.
Geared up to go
More than 160 countries are represented in the Games. The total number of participants is: 7,300