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Gates opened for Games ceremony

Excitement is building in Glasgow as thousands of people arrive to take their seats for the opening ceremony of the 20th Commonwealth Games.

A party atmosphere has descended on Celtic Park where the gates have been opened for the audience of 40,000 people .

There is singing and dancing in the streets around the venue where the stage is set and the finishing touches are being made to the spectacle.

High spirits have been helped along by warm sunny weather in the city, where temperatures hit a high of 25C (77F) earlier.

Cast members have begun getting ready for what has been described as the most prestigious live event ever seen in Scotland.

Officials say there are still “very few” tickets remaining for the ceremony, with just hours until the Games begin.

The eyes of the world will fall on Glasgow with a global television audience of more than one billion people expected to tune in to watch the events unfold.

Thousands of people have begun heading through the gates for the ceremony, many carrying flags from nations of the Commonwealth and others high-fiving volunteers and buying programmes for the event.

Jamaican fans in traditional dress were dancing and drumming, contrasting with the sound of bagpipes and the sight of spectators in tartan dresses and kilts.

Heidi Hunter, 44, from Lithgow in New South Wales, Australia, said she was not sure what to expect from the ceremony.

She said: “We were so busy before we left that we didn’t get any time to read much about it.

“We know Rod Stewart is performing and are really looking forward to it. Other than that, we don’t have a clue.

“We travelled over for the Games and have tickets mostly for hockey. We weren’t expecting this weather and we can’t believe how great the atmosphere has been so far – it’s fabulous.”

Tracy McCarroll arrived at the stadium with her daughters Zoe, 10, and Eva, six, who were both wrapped in Saltires.

Mrs McCarroll, from Strathaven in South Lanarkshire, said: “We just can’t wait to get in there and for it to start.

“There’s such huge, big excitement about it all and it’s great for the rest of the world to be watching and thinking ‘wow, that’s Glasgow’.”

Zoe added: “I’m looking forward to seeing the Queen and waving my flag.

“We know someone who is dancing as well so will try to see her.”

Liz Wilbur, 63, from Dumfries and Galloway, is attending the ceremony with her daughter Sally Foster, 31.

Carrying a Saltire flag, she said: “I am actually English, but I feel Scottish because I have lived here for seven years.

“I think Glasgow is a brilliant city and I am really looking forward to tonight. I’m hoping Rod Stewart will be performing.”

Ms Foster, who lives in Glasgow, said: “I’m excited to see who is performing tonight.

“And I have tickets for the cycling, squash, swimming, rugby sevens, athletics, hockey and netball – I am a huge sports fan.”

Several hundred protesters were gathered near the stadium calling for Sri Lanka to be suspended from the Games.

They were displaying banners reading “referendum for independence is a right for every nation” and “Tamil Eelan – end occupation”.

The Queen, as head of the Commonwealth, will attend the ceremony with the Duke of Edinburgh to formally open the 2014 sporting spectacle.

Organisers have kept much of the detail of the launch close to their chests but have promised it will have a distinctly Glaswegian accent.

Singers Rod Stewart, Susan Boyle and Amy Macdonald are among those performing but those masterminding the ceremony have said ordinary Glaswegians will also be heavily involved.

Organisers say the ceremony will show people around the world ”what we’re made of” in Scotland, whilst celebrating values of unity and diversity.

In an unprecedented move, the opening ceremony will also feature a Commonwealth-wide fundraiser for children, thanks to a partnership with children’s organisation Unicef.

Nicole Scherzinger, Sir Chris Hoy and Sir Alex Ferguson are among those promised to appear ”as never seen before”, in footage exploring different regions of the Commonwealth to witness Unicef’s work.

More traditional elements seen over the decades at Commonwealth Games opening ceremonies will also be present.

The ceremonial flag will be hoisted at the opening of the Games, where it will fly continuously throughout the event until it is lowered at the closing ceremony.

There will also be a parade of the athletes from the 71 participating nations and territories of the Commonwealth.

Sheffield’s Nick Matthew, a multiple squash world champion, will lead Team England into the Games after being named as the squad’s flag bearer, while rhythmic gymnast Francesca Jones has been handed the honour for the Welsh team.

Judo’s Euan Burton will lead Team Scotland into the opening ceremony of their home Games.

During the ceremony, the Queen will read out the message that was hidden inside the Commonwealth Games baton while it journeyed around the world.

She sent the symbol of the Games on its trip across the 71 nations and territories at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in October and it returned to Glasgow on Sunday.

The ceremony will be seen as the first big test of Glasgow’s ambition to host the greatest Commonwealth Games of all time.

It was Manchester 2002 when the people who ran Scotland’s biggest city and Commonwealth Games council started believing they could put on their own show.

But the work really began towards the end of 2007 when the west of Scotland city was confirmed as the host for the 2014 Games, beating Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Since then the London Olympics has given Glasgow further inspiration, but a lot to live up to.

Michael Cavanagh, the Commonwealth Games Scotland chairman, said: ”What we are about to deliver in Glasgow, I think, will be the best ever Commonwealth Games, for sure.

”We have learned from Manchester and particularly London 2012, but we are ready to deliver something spectacular.”

The road to Glasgow 2014 has had some hitches along the way.

A plan to demolish five unoccupied tower blocks – the city’s iconic Red Road flats – during the opening ceremony was scrapped after a furore over the message it was sending out and the impact on the sixth tower’s residents.

But Glaswegians and Scots in general look set to embrace the prospect of the first Commonwealth Games in their country for 28 years, with more than 1.1 million tickets sold.

First Minister Alex Salmond believes the impact of the Glasgow 2014 Games will be felt in Scotland for generations to come.

He said they will ”showcase the great strengths of modern Scotland” as he pointed to their ability to serve as a catalyst for greater international trade, investment and tourism.

With a nod to Glasgow’s renowned warm spirit, he said: ”The Commonwealth Games traditionally are known as the friendly Games.

”The whole of Glasgow, the whole of Scotland, is determined to ensure that these Games live up to that billing and that they become recognised as the friendliest Games and the finest Games ever.”

When the sporting action gets under way tomorrow, more than 4,500 sports men and women will compete in events across 17 sports until August 3.

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