Shanghai’s $44 billion World Expo attracted thousands of visitors on its first day, causing long queues at the fair’s pavilions in China’s richest city.
Chinese President Hu Jintao officially opened the expo last night at a ceremony marked by fireworks, a laser show and performances by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and martial-arts film star Jackie Chan. Visiting leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso watched the display from the expo site along the shores of the Huangpu river.
Shanghai, which declared a five-day public holiday for local residents starting yesterday, is expected to host an estimated 70 million visitors during the six-month long event. That would be more than 10 times the number who traveled to Beijing for the Olympics in August 2008.
“China is a developing country and so to able to host such an event, I feel very proud,” said Xie Ling, a 48-year- old driver from Shanghai. “This gives the world an opportunity to learn about us and promote China on the global stage.”
People rushed gates at the morning opening to get inside, where exhibits by more than 240 countries, companies and organizations are spread over a 5.3 square-kilometer (3.3 square-mile) park.
World expos began with the 1851 World’s Fair in London’s Crystal Palace that showcased the wealth and technological prowess of Europe’s industrialized nations.
They’ve led to the construction of iconic structures, including the Eiffel Tower and Seattle’s Space Needle. The events are now divided into so-called Universal Expos, such as the one in Shanghai, and smaller, more specialized exhibitions.
“I went to the expo in Hanover and this one here is so much nicer. It’s massive,” said Rufus Brevett, 19, a student from the U.K. “It’s definitely worth the wait to get into the pavilions.” Hanover in Germany hosted the 2000 expo.
About 300,000 tickets have now been sold or distributed for the opening day in Shanghai, and almost 200,000 visitors have entered the park as of 4 p.m., organizers said on its website. The large crowds meant a long wait for most pavilions in warm, spring weather. Hotel occupancy level in Shanghai was 72 percent today, a 12 percentage point increase from yesterday, state broadcaster China Central Television said.
“We’re very excited, but there’re just too many people,” said Li Ge, who travelled with her two sisters and nephew from Anhui province. “We hope to see five pavilions but I don’t know whether that is possible,” said Li, who had been queuing for an hour to see the U.K. exhibit.
Traffic across the city’s Nanpu and Lupu bridges and through a tunnel near the expo site was halted for the opening ceremony last night. Pedestrians and vehicles were barred from the Huangpu riverfront and parts of the Lujiazui financial district, home to HSBC Holdings Plc and Citigroup Inc.
A helicopter circled above the Expo park as armed police patrolled the crowds. Security officers were stationed at ports, airports and railway stations across the city.
The local government asked residents to stay home as much as possible during the five-day break to “ensure a smooth operation” for the expo.
The start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics was marred by the murder of an American tourist at Beijing’s Drum Tower. The father-in-law of the U.S. men’s indoor volleyball coach was killed in the knife attack a day after the opening ceremony.
Security guards broke up a scuffle between two men lining up for the German pavilion at the Shanghai event today. There were no reports of major disturbances.
The opening of the expo came as the U.S. investigates a complaint by China that one of its envoys was injured by Houston police officers and coincided with a Washington reception hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to celebrate U.S.-China ties and the U.S. pavilion at the fair.
Officers may have violated international law by entering the Chinese consulate grounds in Houston and arresting the official in the April 24 incident, according to the Chinese complaint.
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