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London's big wheel birthday

London Eye
The London Eye offers spectacular views across the city  

LONDON, England -- Britain's most popular visitor attraction is celebrating its first anniversary.

The British Airways London Eye was officially opened to the paying public on March 9 2000 after a capsule clutch problem saw it turn without passengers on Millennium night weeks earlier.

The towering wheel by the Thames became an instant London landmark and has attracted more than 3.5 million people since its launch.

Even London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a critic of the wheel when first proposed, admitted: "I can't think when I was any more wildly wrong."

  GALLERY
Pictures of the birthday party
 

The mayor was joined by celebrities including athlete Linford Christie, ballerina Darcey Bussell and television presenter Vanessa Feltz for an anniversary spin in one of the 32 capsules.

However, the 443ft-high Eye has suffered its share of problems prior to, and during, its first year of service.

It was dogged by engineering delays early on with attempts to haul it upright in autumn 1999 having to he postponed.

The Eye has also been the venue for a number of demonstrations.

London Eye
Birthday cake for newest addition to London skyline  

In October 1999, a group of eco-warriors occupied the wheel, while in August 2000, a man protesting about sanctions against Iraq tied himself to the wheel for half-an-hour.

More than 600 tourists had to be taken off the wheel in December 2000, after 50 Turkish protestors seized two capsules and threatened to douse themselves with petrol and set themselves alight

But it has triumphed, especially compared to the Millennium Dome which closed on December 31.

The Dome gobbled nearly a billion pounds in state aid and went from international attraction to national embarrassment almost overnight.

The London Eye is due to be closed in 2005 -- though many believe it will become a permanent feature of London life.

Multimedia Assistant Miguel Castro and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Millennium Wheel rising to the occasion
October 12, 1999
Europe welcomes 2000 with dazzling light displays
December 31, 1999
Charges over London wheel siege
December 21, 2000

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