Gallery: Saudi National Day with Cirque du Soleil in Riyadh

Canada-based Cirque du Soleil staged their first show in Saudi Arabia on Sunday with a dazzling display of high-wire thrills, despite a diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh.
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Canada-based Cirque du Soleil staged their first show in Saudi Arabia on Sunday with a dazzling display of high-wire thrills, despite a diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Riyadh.
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The acrobatic troupe performed in Riyadh to mark the Saudi national day, more than a month after the kingdom expelled Canada's ambassador and froze all new trade following Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of activists jailed in the Gulf state.
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Costumed performers slithered up ropes, swaying, twisting and doing mid-air acrobatics at a packed King Fahd sports stadium, with Cirque du Soleil saying the show was one of its biggest one-off productions ever.
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More than 80 artists took the stage, with 250 costumes tailor made to conform to local traditions in Saudi Arabia, it said.
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The announcement of the show was first made in Los Angeles in April during Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's multi-city visit to the United States.
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But diplomatic tensions had cast doubt over the show.
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Canada has refused to give ground in the dispute, which erupted in August, vowing to always stand up for human rights globally, even as diplomats say high-level negotiations are ongoing between the two countries to resolve differences.
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A furious Riyadh ordered Saudi students to pull out from Canadian universities, though more than 1,000 medical students have been granted an extension in a partial rollback.
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The diplomatic rupture reflects Prince Mohammed's increasingly assertive foreign policy and it coincides with his growing clampdown on domestic critics.
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National day was celebrated across the kingdom on Sunday with a raucous display of concerts and folk dance.
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Some 990,000 fireworks were planned across 20 cities, including Riyadh, the information ministry said.
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Iconic buildings in Riyadh were bathed in green light and stereos blared patriotic songs as revellers raced through the streets in cars bedecked with the national flag.
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The ultra-conservative kingdom has cautiously begun introducing entertainment, including music concerts, despite the risk of riling sidelined hardliners.
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It is part of Prince Mohammed's far-reaching liberalisation drive that has ended decades-long bans on cinemas and women drivers and allowed women and men to attend some concerts together.
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In February, Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced it will stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.
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