London – A ceremonial cauldron was lit in central London on Friday with five days to go to the opening of the Paralympic Games, which Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron promised would bring fresh pride to the nation.
Paralysed horse rider Claire Lomas, the first person to complete a marathon in a “bionic” suit, lit the cauldron in Trafalgar Square using a flame kindled atop England's highest mountain, Scafell Pike, in the Lake District national park.
Four Paralympic flames were ignited by Scouts on the summits of the host nation's highest peaks on Tuesday, including Snowdon in Wales, Ben Nevis in Scotland and Northern Ireland's Slieve Donard.
Lomas, who was paralysed from the chest down in a horse riding accident in 2007, walked the London Marathon in a pioneering robotic suit earlier this year.
Speaking at Friday's event, Cameron said: “The Olympic Games made our country proud. I believe these Paralympic Games will make our country prouder still.
“Already this is shaping up to be the best, the biggest, the most incredible Paralympic Games ever. Over these next two weeks, we're going to have more of those moments that will bring us together and make us proud.”
A record 2.3 million of the 2.5 million tickets available have already been sold, up from the 1.8 million sold for Beijing in 2008, meaning the Games could be a sell-out for the first time in their 52-year history.
The participation of stars such as South African double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius have helped raise the 11-day event's profile.
Before the cauldron lighting, the flame was taken to the Royal Opera House as it began a tour of some of London's famous landmarks.
Twenty-six “flame ambassadors” each used the flame to light a lantern to take to celebrations across the country, while the other national flames have been transported to events in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
The four national flames will be reunited at the birthplace of the Paralympic movement in Stoke Mandeville, southern England, next Tuesday, before a 24-hour relay culminating in the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday.
Stoke Mandeville was the location for a pioneering sports event in 1948 for World War II veterans with spinal injuries. The first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome 12 years later.
British Former super-middleweight boxer Michael Watson, who was left fighting for his life after a bout with Chris Eubank in 1991, will be among the relay torchbearers. – Sapa-AFP