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Sports

Baku celebrates opening of European Games

The skyline of Baku was resplendent in color from the Olympic Stadium where a lavish opening ceremony took place ahead of the tournament which involves 50 nations from across the continent.

Pop star Lady Gaga was the headline act as the first-ever European Games were opened in Baku at the 68,000-seater Olympic Stadium.

The American's performance was something of a surprise and more so when she attempted a rendition of John Lennon's great song 'Imagine'. She played a piano covered with flowers before receiving a rapturous ovation from the locals.

President Ilham Aliyev, Russia President Vladimir Putin and Thomas Bach, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced the games to be open.

But the first-ever event of this kind in Europe goes ahead under a backdrop of repression and a woeful human rights record in Azerbaijan.

Since the Aliyev ceased power after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the authorities have seeked to silence journalists and locals from reporting on issues around poor human rights issues.

The idea for the competition appeared in 2012 among associations of the European Olympic Committee who wanted a continental event like the Pan America Games or the Asian Games.

"We are witnessing, we are creating a landmark moment in European sport," said founder and creator of the event, Patrick Hickey.

"Lots of people like to focus on the negatives, but for me there is a huge positive," he adds, celebrating the inclusion of Armenian athletes on Azeri soil.

Armenia and Azerbaijan were at war between 1988 and 1994 in the Nagorno-Karabakh War, but despite a ceasefire for more than a decade, tensions have been high.

But the small Armenian party, largely competing in gymnastics-only, was given a frosty reception with some reports of missiles being aimed at athletes during the opening ceremony.

Fifty nations across Europe will participate in the event, with more than 6,000 athletes in Azerbaijan competing in more than 250 events from 23 sports.

The tournament runs until the closing ceremony on June 28.