Shanghai Expo organisers are expected to draw 70 million visitors over six months [Reuters]

The multi-billion-dollar 2010 World Expo has opened to the public in China's commercial capital, Shanghai.

Organisers of the exhibition have said they expect 70 million people to visit the site over its six month duration, with pavilions from almost 200 nations reflecting the expo's urban sustainability theme of "Better City, Better Life."

SHANGHAI world expo

  Expo's theme is "Better city, Better life"
  70 million visitors expected, mostly Chinese, just five per cent will be foreigners
  Will showcase the latest green technology from 189 countries and 57 organisations
  20,000 cultural performances
  First Expo in a developing country
  Site spans 5.3 sq km across both sides of Huangpu River, twice the size of Monaco
  China says it has spent $4.2bn - others say true cost is closer to $58bn
  Standard day ticket costs $23 (160 yuan)
  Shanghai allocated $45bn to upgrade city's infrastructure
  City has adopted a blue shaped mascot called 'Haibao', meaning treasure of the sea
  Runs for six months from May 1 - October 31

The Chinese government has spent $4.2bn on the Expo itself, and many billions more on other improvements in and around Shanghai.

Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan, reporting from the Expo site, said that Chinese authorities are hoping the event will boost the global image of Shanghai, as much as the 2008 Olympics did for Beijing.

Organisers kicked off the event on Friday evening with a spectacular fireworks display, the largest LED screen ever constructed and dancing water fountains along the banks of the city's Huangpu River.

On Saturday, a song and dance performance officially opened the event to the public.

"Thank you China for your ability to transform the Expo into a meeting of nations of an unprecedented scale under the common goal of promoting the development of
harmonious and sustainable cities," said Vincent Gonzales Loscertales, secretary general of the International Exhibitions Bureau.

The Expo site covers an area twice the size of the state Monaco and 20 times bigger than the last World Expo held in the Spanish city of Zaragoza in 2008.

Shanghai expects an average of nearly 400,000 people to visit the site every day, although the overwhelming majority - about 95 per cent - are expected to be domestic Chinese visitors.

Showcase

The government will be hoping to avoid the sometimes chaotic scenes witnessed during rehearsals for the Expo, when visitors complained of enormous lines, poor organisation and lack of food.

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World Expo opens with lavish show

The Chinese government spent eight years and more than $50 billion preparing for the 2010 Expo, the country's first world's fair, which aims to showcase the latest technology and inventions through innovative national "pavilions".

The main site has been designed to be environmentally friendly with the creation of the country's largest solar plant and the use of zero-emission vehicles.

However, most of the pavilions will be demolished after October 31, when the Expo ends.

The government also had to relocate thousands of people for the Expo, some forcefully, according to rights groups.

The government also launched the biggest security operation in China since the Beijing Olympics in preparation for the event.

As a result, not all Shanghai residents are celebrating the event, which brings additional traffic restrictions and security checks across the city.

Extravagant

Most countries have gone to extravagant lengths for their Expo pavillions, spending huge sums to boost their image in China.

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Attendees include not only large countries like France, Russia and the United States, but also Turkmenistan, Oman, Costa Rica and many others.

Saudi Arabia has spent $146 million on its spaceship-shaped pavilion, which features date palms, while India plans to fly a cast of Bollywood actors to the site to
perform.

Despite the spectacle the event promises, the run-up to the Expo has not been without its hiccups.

Some national pavilions will not be ready for the first paying members of the public on Saturday.

Kuwait, Bhutan and poverty-stricken Burkina Faso dropped out of the Expo completely this week, local media reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies