updated 8/4/2008 12:09:56 PM ET 2008-08-04T16:09:56

Four days before the opening ceremony, IOC president Jacques Rogge said the Beijing Olympics will be a historic milestone, affirming China's transformation on the world stage.

In a speech at the opening ceremony of the Olympic body, Rogge steered clear of any of the contentious issues surrounding the games such as air pollution, human rights and media freedoms. He referred only to "some challenges" facing China with dignitaries on hand including Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"We are now just days away from what I believe will be a historic Olympic Games," Rogge said, speaking to the 120th General Assembly of the International Olympic Committee.

"China's role as our Olympic host has opened a window to the world's most populous nation."

Rogge said the games were a "landmark event" for the Olympic movement, hosted by a country with nearly 20 percent of the world's population. One billion television viewers are expected to watch live coverage of Friday's opening ceremony, he said.

"I am equally confident that the games will leave a great legacy for China," Rogge said. "China is a nation in transition, with a great future, tremendous potential and some challenges. I believe history will view the 2008 Olympics as a significant milestone in China's remarkable transformation."

On the fast track
Rogge cited the May 12 earthquake in Sichuan province, which killed almost 70,000 people, and praised the "courageous response by the Chinese people."

"All of us in the Olympic family hope that the Beijing Games will help the healing process in China and deepen the world's knowledge of this remarkable country," he said, speaking at the National Theater, just a short walk west of Tiananmen Square.

Rogge noted that the games will feature a record 205 Olympics teams, with women making up about 45 percent of the 10,500 athletes.

He also referred to the "unprecedented effort" against doping with more tests than ever before, and new steps to combat betting.

In his speech, the Chinese president said sports has played a big role in China's "fast-track" toward modernization.

"It is also our hope that through the games, we can show the world the sincere aspiration of the Chinese people to share the benefits of development and to join with the rest of the world in building a bright future," Hu said.

Liu Qi, the president of organizing committee and the head of Beijing's Communist Party, said the Olympics had transformed the city.

"All venues and facilities are now in operation, and all staff are in their posts," Liu said. "Volunteers and Beijing residents are greeting athletes and friends from all over the world with welcoming smiles. Now we are proud to say Beijing is ready!"

The ceremony also included a concert featuring international opera singers and China's national symphony orchestra.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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