BEIJING (AFP) - The Beijing Winter Paralympics were officially declared closed on Sunday (March 13), after a controversy-hit Games which banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing over the invasion of Ukraine.
Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), declared the event finished and praised its "awesome organisation, vibrant venues and sensational sport" at the closing ceremony in the Chinese capital's "Bird's Nest" stadium.
He also praised the athletes, who he called "beacons of hope, and champions for peace".
The ceremony, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, featured a 55-metre Beijing 2022 logo in the form of a vinyl record player turntable, rotating underneath a shining snowflake.
After opening music from four harp players, athletes paraded through the stadium to applause alongside dancing volunteers in snowflake-adorned blue and white outfits.
The Paralympic flag was lowered and handed over to Italy's Milano-Cortina, which will stage the 2026 Winter Games, before a drum performance took place to close the ceremony.
"In the Paralympic Villages there were different nations, different views, different abilities. Differences here did not divide us. They united us," Parsons said in his speech.
"Through this unity we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony, and importantly hopes for peace."
The lead-up to the Games was overshadowed by controversy over whether athletes from Russia and ally Belarus should be allowed to compete.
The IPC initially said it would allow the athletes to compete as neutrals, but after threats of boycotts from other competitors and tensions rising in the athletes' village, the organisers banned them from the Games.
At the opening ceremony, Parsons' forceful anti-war speech was censored on Chinese state TV, as Beijing refuses to condemn the invasion by its close partner Russia.
And in the closing ceremony, not all of his speech was translated into Chinese for the domestic audience, with phrases including "champions for peace" and "hopes for peace" omitted.
It was the host nation China which emerged as the new Winter Paralympics powerhouse - topping the medals table with 18 golds and 61 medals in all.
After an arduous journey to get to the Chinese capital from their war-torn homeland, Ukraine's athletes finished a remarkable second in the medal table behind China with 11 golds and 29 in total.