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Race to finish village

NEW DELHI, September 27- Hundreds of athletes moved into the Commonwealth Games village in New Delhi on Monday, as a row loomed over the role of Prince Charles at the opening ceremony just six days away.Despite warnings that work would not be finished at the much-criticised village until Wednesday, athletes and support staff from nations including England, South Africa, Australia and Canada arrived during the day.

Problems plaguing the crisis-hit Games range from shabby accommodation to security fears, an outbreak of dengue fever, and doubts about public safety after the collapse of a new footbridge next to the main stadium.

In a desperate bid to finish work on time, an army of manual workers was drafted in to tackle uncompleted apartments, dirty toilets and heaps of builders’ rubbish at the village.

The latest challenge facing India was to choose who will open the Games at the grand ceremony on Sunday evening, with officials admitting that the role of Britain’s Prince Charles had still not been decided.

Queen Elizabeth, who would normally open the Games as head of the Commonwealth, in May said she would not travel to India due to her hectic schedule and instead sent Prince Charles, her son and heir.

The move, which drew criticism in India, has led organisers to discuss whether the Indian President Pratibha Patil should instead open the Games.

"The decision is yet to be taken," Archana Datta, the secretary to the Indian president, told AFP after reports of a spat between London and New Delhi.

A spokesman for the British embassy in New Delhi denied any friction over the opening ceremony protocol.

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"Who stands where and who says what is still undecided and now being finalised," he said. "There are numerous ways these things can be done."

The head of the Games organising committee said Monday that most of the apartments at the athletes’ village were finally ready and that the rest would be finished in the next few days.

"The work is going on. Eighty percent of the flats are OK. All the water has disappeared. To finish it, we need two to three more days," Suresh Kalmadi told reporters. "People who have come today are saying the village is great."

The shambolic state of the village brought the multisport event to the brink of disaster last week after leading countries hinted that they might pull out.

Several athletes have withdrawn due to health and safety concerns, but the threat of boycotts from entire teams has receded.

Nearly 50 British athletes moved into the village on Monday.

"We have sufficient bedrooms for this first group of athletes, and activity at the village has picked up a lot," England team spokeswoman Caroline Searle told AFP on Monday. "But there is still a lot of work to be done."

Kenyan chef de mission Jonathan Koskei said he was satisfied with the accommodation.

"We have participated in such Games in other countries also. The facilities are poorer (than here) in many other countries. We are happy with the facilities," Koskei said. "They are improving hour by hour."

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South African High Commissioner Harris Mbulelo Majeke complained a snake was found in one room at the village, while Indian boxer Akhil Kumar said his bed collapsed as soon as he sat on it.

Elsewhere, a blame game has erupted between local organisers and the event’s federation.

Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell was forced to defend the organisation’s chief executive Mike Hooper, who said the Games’ chaotic run-up was due to Indian officials.

"We’re at the hands and the mercy of, effectively, the government of India, the Delhi government, the agencies responsible for delivery of the venues," Hooper told Television New Zealand on Sunday.

"Renewed deadlines came and went. New reasons for delays kept coming up. Absolutely exasperation from our perspective," he said.

Fennell said Hooper had "merely stated the fact that the responsibility for delivering and operating the Games lies with authorities in India" and that Hooper was a victim of "vicious and totally unwarranted" attacks in the media.

Fennell on Saturday had said "extensive work" still had to be carried out and warned of the damage done to India’s national image.

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