By Duncan Mackay at the Yongpyong Dome in Pyeongchang

Pyeongchang 2013 Opening Ceremony January 29 2013January 29 - Pyeongchang's preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics underwent its first real test when the 10th Special Olympics World Winter Games opened here tonight at a ceremony attended by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Park Geun-hye, South Korea's President-elect having won the election last month, was also among the crowd, along with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, chair of the opposition National League for Democracy in Burma, and Kim Yu Na, the 2010 Olympic women's skating champion, one of the most popular figures in this country. 

The Special Olympics are using many of the facilities in the Alpensia Resort and nearby Gangneung that are due to host events in 2018. 

Pyeongchang 2018 Special Olympics opening ceremonyVancouver 2010 gold medallist Yu Na Kim, Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Timothy Shriver, chief executive of the Special Olympics attend the Opening Ceremony

The Special Olympics is held every four years for people with intellectual disabilities and is being held in this country for the first time after former politician Na Kyung-won - herself the mother of a child with Down Syndrome - attended the event in Idaho in 2009 and was upset by the lack of Government support for the South Korean team. 

It is estimated that 2.5 million people among the South Korean population of 50 million suffer from either physical or intellectual disability but there is criticism that they are not treated fairly.

"South Korea boasts a world-class economy, but what I saw in Idaho showed where we stood in our welfare policy for the disabled," Na said.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge is due to travel here on Thursday (January 31) to see some of the events featuring 3,190 athletes from 111 countries.

It will be his first-ever visit to Pyeongchang, who were awarded the Olympics and Paralympics in July 2011 at the IOC Session in Durban following three unsuccessful bids. 

The Opening Ceremony, which also attended by China's Yao Ming, China's 7ft 6in former Houston Rockets basketball player, featured many of the elements of the Olympics, including a torch lighting and reciting of oaths. 

Pyeongchang 2013 Special Olympics Russian team walking at opening ceremony January 29 2013Russia's team was one of the biggest to take part in the Opening Ceremony for the 2013 Special Olympics in Pyeongchang

The show at the Yongpyong Dome, which also hosted the Opening Ceremony of the 1999 Winter Asian Games, was produced by acclaimed director Byeong Woo and took place amidst an igloo and snowflake stage depicted to represented Pyeongchang. 

The Special Olympics, which are due to finish next Tuesday (February 5), feature seven categories of sports including alpine skiing, cross country skiing, snowboarding, snow shoeing, speed skating, figure skating, floor hockey, and a demo sport floorball.

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