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Paralympics opens in Rio

Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olmpics
Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olmpics Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko

The Paralympics will open later today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once again, Rio's Maracana stadium will be the iconic setting for the opening ceremony of a Games staged against a backdrop of austerity and doping.

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Less than three weeks after the flame was doused on South America's first Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro welcomes 4,300 Paralympians seeking their own slice of sporting glory.

Stars include the Iranian power lifter, Siamand Rahman, Britain's wheelchair racer, David Weir, and China's blind sprinter, Liu Cuiqing.

Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, was optimistic about the Paralympics success.

"These will be the people's Games," Craven said. "Ticket sales were at 200,000 at the end of the Olympics. The venues are ready. The athletes are in the village and they are very happy with the facilities there."

Two new events -- canoe-kayak and triathlon – are making their appearance on the 22-sport menu, with competitors from 161 nations -- but not one Russian among them.

Russian para-athletes, who finished second behind China in the London 2012 medals table, were barred last month by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC). The ban followed a World Anti-Doping Agency report, which alleged vast state-sponsored doping.

Paralympic officials will also be closely monitoring competitors for signs of self-mutilation or “boosting” – a practice whereby athletes aim to increase the flow of blood to their muscles in order to improve their performance.

Six countries will be competing for the very first time: -- Aruba, Congo, Malawi, Somalia, Sao Tome and Principe and Togo.

The Archbishop of Brazil, Orani Tempesta, said he hoped Brazil would do well.

"We hope that Brazil does well, gets many medals and brings joy to the country," said Tempesta. "At the same time, I think all athletes who are in competition have already won a medal given what they have overcome."

The Paralympics will run until 18 September.

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