Page last updated at 09:11 GMT, Tuesday, 11 July 2006 10:11 UK

Mongolians honour Genghis Khan

Mongolian guards in ceremonial outfit on July 10
Mongolians are using the festival to celebrate their heritage

A festival has begun in Mongolia to honour the nation's most famous emperor, warrior Genghis Khan.

Celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of the Mongol empire have been going on all year.

But the highlight is the three-day Nadaam festival, which features the traditional "three manly sports" of horse-racing, wrestling and archery.

The games are taking place around the country, with the population thronging to district centres to take part.

"This is the most beautiful and important holiday of our country," Tsendsuren Majaa, who was attending the games in the western town of Arvaikheer, told Reuters news agency.

In an opening ceremony at the Central Stadium in the capital, Ulan Bator, 800 musicians played the national anthem while men in traditional warrior garb rode around the arena on horses.

National hero

Ahead of the festival, an eight-metre high statue of the Genghis Khan was unveiled in Ulan Bator on Monday.

Crowds gathered to watch the unveiling of the tribute to their national hero.

The huge statue of Genghis Khan

"For Mongolians, he's almost like Jesus Christ. They feel very close to him," the president of Chinggis Khaan University, Kh. Lkhagvasuren, told the AFP news agency.

Genghis Khan united warring tribes in Central Asia to establish the Mongol empire in 1206.

At the height of its power, under his descendants, the enormous empire encompassed lands that are now China, Russia, Iraq and Iran.

Mongolia's first rock opera - another tribute to Genghis Khan - was performed in May as part of celebrations marking the country's founding.

In recent weeks, the authorities have released some 700 prisoners, about 10% of the nation's prison population, to mark the anniversary, the AFP news agency said.

Mongolia rocks to Khan opera show
27 May 06 |  Entertainment
Palace of Genghis Khan unearthed
07 Oct 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Mongolia's cult of the great Khan
12 Aug 03 |  From Our Own Correspondent
The hunt for Genghis Khan
27 May 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Mongolia
16 Nov 11 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Mongolia
16 Nov 11 |  Country profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific