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ARKIB : 22/12/2003

Second ASEAN Para Games kick off in Vietnam

HANOI Dec 21 - The second ASEAN Para Games were formally opened in Hanoi Sunday evening, eight days after Vietnam successfully organised and won the Southeast Asian Games.

More than 700 handicapped athletes from the 10 ASEAN countries and East Timor were welcomed in National My Dinh Stadium in a rousing parade.

A military band led the 11 delegations onto the field in front of a stadium full of people waving the nations' flags while a Vietnamese speaker invited the crowd to celebrate ``solidarity and friendship.''

The first Para Games, held after the 21st Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia in 2001, had been contested by only around 400 athletes.

Participants are divided into five degrees of disability, including those who are paralysed, wheelchair-bound, visually impaired, suffering cerebral palsy or are mentally-retarded.

312 gold medals will be distributed in five sports, including track-and-field, swimming, weightlifting, badminton and table-tennis.

The Youth Union of the communist country's capital has mobilised more than 1,300 students and young people in the city to prepare the event, welcomed by government officials as an occasion to ``praise disabled athletes who overcome all difficulties to be useful to the society.''

To ensure ``security and social order'', the Youth Union also called 340 students to help the police, 700 volunteers at key traffic junctions and ``a group of 2,500 goodwill supporters'', the Vietnam News Agency added.

Earlier this month, Vietnam had put its national pride on the line with the Southeast Asian Games. Thousands of coloured flags and banners had been hung throughout the 11 provinces and cities hosting events.

In total, more than 5,000 athletes and coaches from 11 countries had taken part in the competition, which ended with hosts Vietnam comfortably topping the gold medal rankings ahead of Thailand.

``Para Games volunteers must care for the athletes more than their SEA Games counterparts'', Vu Thanh Mon, a member of the reception committee, told the state-controlled Vietnam News daily. - AFP

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