President Xi Jinping declared the Beijing Winter Olympics open Friday as China tried to turn the page on a build-up overshadowed by human rights concerns, COVID-19 and a US-led diplomatic boycott.

Fireworks exploded over the “Bird’s Nest” as the lattice-shaped stadium took centre stage, just as it did at the 2008 Games, as Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.

Xi, under whose rule China has adopted a more muscular attitude internationally compared to 14 years ago, was given a rapturous welcome by the socially-distanced crowd wearing face masks, for what his ruling Communist Party hopes will be a soft-power triumph.

The ceremony was dazzling but less spectacular than the extravaganza 14 years ago.

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