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Paralympics Set to Begin in Beijing

The Paralympics Games begin Saturday in Beijing. China won the most gold medals at the Athens Paralympics and is expected to rank high once again. But as Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing, residents in the Chinese capital hope that the games will benefit them.

The Paralympics Games bring together more than 4,000 of the world's best disabled athletes for 11 days of competition in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Qingdao.

The Paralympics will be held at the same venues used for the Summer Olympics last month.

Athletes will compete in 20 individual and team sports ranging from archery to wheelchair rugby. Special rules and equipment apply for six different classes of disabled athletes, including amputees and the intellectually disabled.

Deng Yaping is a former ping-pong champion and China's spokeswoman for the Paralympics village. She says she is confident the Paralympics will be just as impressive as the Olympic Games.

She says they will stick to a principle she calls "two games, equal splendor." She says they will provide superb service and an unforgettable Paralympics experience to the athletes and officials from around the world.

China took 51 gold medals at the summer Olympic Games, the most of any country, and is expected to perform even better at the Paralympics.

This time, China is fielding a record 547 Paralympic athletes. China hopes to top the 63 gold medals it won at the 2004 Paralympics Games in Athens.

Liu Mihuan is a wheelchair basketball player. She says this is the first time her team will play in the games.

She says they have never played against foreign teams and have just started recently. She says they do not yet know how they will do, but says everything will be okay as long as they try their best.

China's most famous wheelchair-bound citizen is Deng Pufang, son of late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

Deng is chairman of China's federation for the disabled. He addressed China's Paralympic athletes at the opening of the Paralympics village.

He asks them if they are ready for the games and they shout back "yes." He asks them if they are confident and they shout back "yes."

The games are bringing much needed attention to the plight of China's 83 million handicapped people, who are rarely seen in public.

Chinese officials admit the disabled are effectively cut off from society by a lack of accessible transportation and facilities.

In an effort to end that segregation, Beijing has made all subway stations accessible by wheelchair and has installed ramps at most government buildings as well as at major shopping malls and some hotels.

The city has added two thousand wheelchair-accessible buses and 70 taxis. Beijing also placed wheelchair ramps and Braille signs at its most famous tourist attractions such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

Philip Craven is president of the International Paralympics Committee. He expressed confidence the Beijing games will be a success.

"Whether we'll compare them or not, all we will say is the Beijing Games, in Beijing, Qingdao and Hong Kong, were great. And, that's probably what we'll say. And, it will be true," he said.

China's official Xinhua news agency says about 72 percent of Paralympics tickets were distributed as of September 1st.

Xinhua said about a fourth of them, 300,000 tickets, were given to students, the disabled and ordinary citizens.

The Beijing Olympic Committee made more seats available at the popular Bird's Nest and Water Cube venues after those tickets sold out last month.

But, news reports say even additional tickets to the Water Cube have already sold out.