Pomp and circumstance
Queen Elizabeth presides over festive closing of Commonwealth Games
Posted: Friday September 25, 1998 06:33 PM
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN/SI) -- With political troubles building in this capital city, 90,000 Malaysians celebrated Monday the closing of the Commonwealth Games with Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
Malaysia laid on a colorful display at a time when its economy is shrinking fast amid Asia's financial crisis. There were fireworks, multi-colored, revolving spotlights, dancers in purple robes and soldiers parading with fixed bayonets.
There were also fears that anti-government activists might try to use the event as a high-profile stage for their cause. Helmeted riot police with clubs and shields patrolled outside the stadium, but there were no demonstrations.
Earlier in the day, police fired tear gas outside a Kuala Lumpur courthouse to disperse several thousand supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and now his most persistent critic.
Anwar was arrested Sunday night at his home and faces charges of sodomy, which is a crime in Malaysia. His allies say the government trumped up the charges to silence him.
In a meeting Monday with Mahathir, Britain's foreign secretary, Robin Cook, urged the Malaysian leader to ensure that the unrest did not disrupt the visit of Queen Elizabeth.
Mahathir attended the closing ceremony of the games, which included such standards as swimming and track and field and additions including rugby, cricket, netball, tenpin bowling, field hockey and squash.
He was cheered when he went to the center of the stadium before greeting the queen.
The British monarch traditionally closes the Commonwealth Games, which are held every four years. About 5,000 athletes from 70 countries, most of them former British territories, participated in the two weeks of sporting contests this year.
She delivered her closing declaration after a spectacular burst of fireworks over the stadium that drew shrieks of delight from the crowd.
Earlier, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, entered the nearly full National Stadium, which was built especially for the games, in a glistening black convertible.
Cameras flashed and row upon row of spectators roared their delight as she raised her gloved hand in greeting. They showed no interest in political activism, instead raising their arms in a traditional crowd-pleasing stunt called the "wave."
"You can see all these people are happy. They're not worrying about politics," said Abdul Jalil, a 47-year-old supervisor at a rubber plantation.
The city of Manchester, England, is host for the next games. In a live television hookup from that city, thousands of people in a square cheered and waved at the Malaysian spectators.
Led by flag-bearers, the athletes then paraded around the Kuala Lumpur stadium. The goodwill faded briefly when the crowd booed the contingent from Singapore, which is mired in political and economic disputes with neighboring Malaysia.
Despite the pomp, many Malaysians are suffering economic hardship and discontent is growing. Anwar's supporters want to tap that sentiment to erode the authority of Mahathir, who has governed for 17 years with a tight grip.
"Some people are thinking now only about the Commonwealth Games," said games volunteer Abdullah Hussin. "Maybe after the games, they'll concentrate on politics."
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