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'Greatest' Paralympics end with lavish ceremony

The Paralympic Games drew to a spectacular end today, with a dazzling closing ceremony in Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium. As with the Olympics last month, host nation China easily topped the medals table.

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A packed "Bird's Nest" National stadium on Wednesday witnessed the formal end of the Beijing Paralympic Games, bringing down the curtain on a glittering 12-day sports extravaganza.

Fireworks lit up the night sky as the closing ceremony got under way for the 13th Paralympics, described by the movement's chief Philip Craven as "the greatest Paralympic Games ever".

China dominated the medals table here with 89 golds and 211 medals overall, enjoying particular success in athletics, swimming and table tennis.

Britain, which chased China hard in the early part of the Games, finished with 42 golds and 102 medals, ahead of the United States in third place with 36 golds and 99 medals.

"Team China has performed extremely well this time," China's chef de mission Wang Xinxian told reporters.

"The good result itself is the greatest encouragement for the athletes. Both the central and local governments will reward the excellent performance of our athletes."

China's performance mirrored its efforts at last month's Olympics, where the host nation finished top of the medals table and won similar praise from organisers for staging a well-run and spectacular event.

The Paralympic Games were lit up by Canadian wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc, South Afica's Olympic swimmer Natalie du Toit and Australian swimmer Matthew Cowdrey, all of whom won five golds.

South Africa's sprint sensation Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius also grabbed his share of headlines with a track sprint treble that was completed on Tuesday with gold in the 400 metres.

The Games have been widely praised for their organisation and the huge crowds that turned out to watch the competition, particularly the athletics and swimming events.

Du Toit, due to receive a special achievement award in the packed stadium, hailed the Paralympics as "amazing," a sentiment echoed by her compatriot, Pistorius.

China has also sought to use the Paralympics to improve the plight of its 83 million disabled, and President Hu Jintao Wednesday pledged more efforts to promote their well-being.

"The Chinese government and people will build on the success of the Beijing Paralympic Games to carry forward the humanitarian spirit, and advance in an all-round way the well-being of people with a disability in China," he said, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Huge efforts were made to show that China treated the Paralympics with as much importance as the Olympics, including keeping in place anti-pollution measures such as a partial ban on cars.

China promised "Two Games with Equal Splendour," and International Paralympic Committee chief Craven said it had achieved its goal.

"These Games have been great Games. I think everybody realises that," Craven said.

The legacies of the Paralympics were "huge and far-reaching" both in terms of improved access and changed attitudes, said Wang Wei, the vice-president of organising committee BOCOG.

British organisers of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics on Tuesday also praised the "spectacular" delivery of both events but promised an outstanding event of their own.

Controversies over drugs and classification problems were among the few issues to cloud the Paralympics, but Craven said the event was "near-enough free from doping."

Three out-of-competition doping offences were uncovered in powerlifting but there had been not one in-competition case.

A wheelchair basketball player was sent home by the German team following a positive doping test carried out pre-competition by the German anti-doping commission.

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