The athletes' village for the Beijing Olympics has been formally opened by hundreds of Chinese athletes, led by basketball star Yao Ming and hurdler Liu Xiang.
The Chinese flag was raised during Sunday's inauguration ceremony, which included showers of confetti and children handing out Olympic mascots to some of the country's top political figures.  

The Olympic village's "mayor," Chen Zhili, welcomed athletes from more than 200 countries to the Games, which begin on August 8.  She promised the village will "try to satisfy the needs of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds."

The athletes' housing complex can hold 16,000 people.  All of the apartments, which will be converted for private use after the Games, already have been sold.

Beijing's Communist Party chief Liu Qi, who also is president of the Chinese Olympic organizing committee, presented a symbolic gold key to the village to "mayor" Chen, who is an organizing committee vice president.

China's athletes and team officials, wearing bright red blazers, yellow shirts and white trousers or skirts, added a festive touch to the opening ceremony Sunday.  The hot, muggy morning weather was marked by a thick haze of pollution in the air, despite drastic pollution-control measures that have been in effect for a week.

Early-arriving Athletes from China and other nations already have settled in the village's nine thousand apartments.  Chinese authorities say they will try to accommodate all participants' living habits, lifestyles, cultural backgrounds and religions.  

The Olympic athletes' village is about one kilometer from the main Olympic stadium, known as "the Bird's Nest" for its distinctive architecture, and the landmark Water Cube aquatic center.  
The  66-hectare complex has 42 residential buildings, and other facilities include a restaurant serving up to 6,000 people at a time.  About 2,700 Chinese chefs will work alongside 100 foreign chefs preparing food for four main dining "zones" - Chinese, Asian, Mediterranean and international, and officials say the menu will include halal, vegetarian, low-sugar, kosher and Indian selections.  

National-team officials also will stay in the village, along with Olympic officials ranging up to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The athletes' village will be open through August 27, three days after the Games' closing ceremony, and then will reopen from August 30 to September 20 for the Paralympics.