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London bids spectacular farewell to Paralympics

LONDON -- London on Sunday bid farewell to the Paralympics, with a spectacular celebration of the human spirit, amid claims the games had led to a “seismic” shift in attitudes toward disability.

Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z headlined a three-hour festival of song and dance in front of 80,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium, with flame-throwers, fantastical vehicles, roller-skating warriors and stunning aerial acrobatics.

Top British athletes Ellie Simmonds and Jonnie Peacock extinguished the flame, signaling the formal end to the games and the start of the countdown to the next edition in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

London 2012 chief Sebastian Coe said the Paralympics and the Olympics before it had been an “historic odyssey of human achievement and endeavor” that had been an “inspiration” to everyone involved.

“The Paralympic Games has set new records every day, sporting records, records for crowds, for television audiences, for unbridled spirit,” he told the crowd.

“In this country we will never think of sport the same way and we will never think of disability the same way. The Paralympians have lifted the cloud of limitation.”

As fireworks exploded over the British capital, a message was projected on to the side of the British Parliament on the banks of the River Thames: “Thank you London, thank you UK.”

Organizers hailed the Paralympics as the biggest and most high-profile in its 52-year history, with more media attention and a record number of athletes from more than 160 countries, including for the first time reclusive North Korea.

Coe said earlier that with 2.7 million tickets sold, packed venues and vocal crowds, the games had created a global platform for elite disabled sport and also helped change perceptions of people with disabilities.

“I really genuinely do think that we have had a seismic effect on shifting public attitudes,” he told a news conference, adding that the focus had been on “what we can do rather than what we can't do.”

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Fireworks light up the sky above the arena during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in east London, Sunday, Sept. 9. (AFP)

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