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Tartan-tastic ceremony opens Glasgow Games

By Sam Holden and Michael Hann

GLASGOW (Reuters) - Glasgow welcomed a large part of the world and remembered recent tragedies as a diverse and colorful opening ceremony signalled the start of the 20th Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on Wednesday.

As the sun set on the hottest day of the year in Scotland's biggest city, a vibrant display of tartan-clad dancers, pipe bands and kilted entertainers kicked off 11 days of sporting endeavour.

Famed singers Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle, along with over 3,000 volunteers, helped provide the entertainment for a packed stadium as they welcomed the 6,500 athletes from 71 mostly former British colonies.

The opening ceremony drew to a close after two hours when the Queen's Baton Relay entered the stadium at the end of its 190,000-km journey around the Commonwealth.

"The baton relay represents a calling together of people from every part of the Commonwealth and serves as a reminder of our shared ideals and ambitions," said Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Commonwealth.

"And now, that baton has arrived here in Glasgow, a city renowned for its dynamic cultural and sporting achievements, for the warmth of its people, for this opening ceremony of the friendly games."

Scotland is hosting the multi-sport event for the third time after 1970 and 1986, when they were held in Edinburgh, but this edition of the gathering will be the biggest sporting event ever held in the country.

Celtic Park, more usually decked out in green and white of one of the city's two major football clubs, was awash with the sights, sounds and colors of the Commonwealth as the athletes entered the arena.

India, home to more than half of the people in the Commonwealth, led the parade of nations and each contingent was guided around the stadium by their own Scottish terrier dog.

To honor to the victims of their national airline's two recent tragedies, Malaysian athletes wore black armbands and carried their nation's flag at half staff.

The 298 people who died when flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine on July. 17 were also remembered with an impeccably observed minute of silence.

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Images of great athletes from competing nations such as Scotland's six-time Olympic champion cyclist Chris Hoy and Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar flashed up on a 100-metre wide screen - the largest in Europe - urging spectators to make donations to the charity Unicef.

The biggest cheer of the night came unsurprisingly for the 310 Scottish athletes, who marched into the stadium behind the Cross of St Andrew kitted out in their controversial pastel tartan kilts and shawls.

Malaysia's Prince Tunku Imran, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation, brought a temporary halt to proceedings and much amusement to the crowd when he struggled to open the baton, which contained the Queen's speech.

Goodwill was the overriding sentiment of the evening, though, and loud cheers from the crowd greeted the baton's eventual opening before the British monarch declared the Games open.

"To you, the Commonwealth athlete, I send my good wishes for success in your endeavours," she said.

"Your accomplishments over the coming days will encourage us all to strengthen the bonds that unite us."

After an opening night of celebration, the sporting action begins on Thursday with the first gold of the Games up for grabs in the women's triathlon.

The closing ceremony will be held at Hampden Park on Aug. 3.

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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