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SEAGames 26th : 'It's under control'

PALEMBANG, Indonesia - Southeast Asian Games organisers admitted frustration Friday with the bad publicity swirling around the competition but vowed it would be a success despite a litany of problems.

With the main opening ceremony in the South Sumatran city of Palembang just hours away, the 26th edition of the Games faced a raft of immediate issues including unfinished roads and landscaping and power shortages.

In Palembang, 500 kilometres (300 miles) from co-host city Jakarta, an AFP photographer said frantic work to complete roads and landscaping around the Games' complex was under way, with the bulk of the events beginning Saturday.

The competition has also been dogged by a corruption scandal and a funding row between the government and Games organisers Iansoc that nearly saw them walk out a few weeks before the start.

But Inasoc director Ratna Irsana Marhaendra said the problems have been banished and the event will surprise the critics and delight athletes from the 11 nations vying for medals.

"There are many rumours and a lot of bad news going around at the minute," she told AFP.

"It's frustrating but I'm very optimistic everything is under control. All of the venues in Jakarta are fine and in Palembang they are ready on time for the competition."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will attend the opening ceremony - after joining Friday prayers at Palembang's main mosque.

Big crowds were expected for the 7pm (1200 GMT) show - which will see choreographed performances by hundreds of dancers and musicians and fireworks by the team behind the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony display.

Meanwhile the medal hunt began in earnest on Friday with Indonesia's Eka Octarorianus claiming a brace - in the men's 1000-metre sprint canoe single and doubles.

The nation's strongly-fancied football team also notched a 2-0 win over Singapore, continuing their good form after a 6-0 demolition of Cambodia early in the week.

Indonesia was awarded the Games in 2006, but the government has faced criticism for failing to release cash to Inasoc to build venues, which caused the embarrassing delay to the athletes' village in Palembang.

In an echo of India's graft-hit Commonwealth Games last year, the ruling party's treasurer allegedly pocketed $3 million in bribes from a firm seeking tenders, and then fled to Colombia with the spoils.

An editorial in English-language daily The Jakarta Post Friday lamented the shambolic build-up, branding it an "embarrassment", made worse as Indonesia has hosted the competition four times - the last in 1997.

As the opening ceremony approached the capital was bedecked with posters plugging the Games, with inflatables of the two mascots - Komodo dragons dressed in traditional batik shirts - installed at roundabouts.

Banners proclaiming "Indonesia Can Do it!" hung from bridges above the city's notoriously gridlocked roads, while cheery volunteers swarmed the centre of the city handing out flyers for events.

Teams, dressed in distinctive national colours, filled major hotels ahead of the opening, their minds on medal glory, while dozens of reporters from the competing nations descended on the media zone - which opened a week late.

There were concerns the capital's roads will be made impassable by the 12,000 athletes, officials and staff expected at the Games, as well as thousands of spectators.

Motorists are braced for painful journeys next week as lanes will be shut for athletes to get to venues on time, while schools will close for the duration to help clear vehicles from the streets.

Although it will be largely ignored by the rest of the world, the Games are big news in Southeast Asia, capturing the imagination of the competing nations, with dozens of gold medals and regional bragging rights up for grabs.
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