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article imageLopez Obrador says will cancel Mexico airport project

By AFP     Oct 29, 2018 in World

Mexico's incoming leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday he will halt construction of a new airport for the capital after it was rejected in a referendum.

"The decision is to obey the mandate of the citizens," Lopez Obrador told reporters, adding that the money would be used instead to improve existing facilities.

The president-elect has been a staunch critic of the environmental impact of the project -- the estimated cost of which is over $13 billion -- and said it is marred by corruption.

Business leaders said the new airport at Texcoco was needed to ease traffic at Mexico City's aging airport, which handled nearly 45 million passengers last year.

Lopez Obrador, who succeeds Enrique Pena Nieto on December 1, said "two runways" would be built instead at Santa Lucia -- a military airbase south of the city -- and Mexico City's current airport would be upgraded. Another airport, at Toluca, would also be repurposed.

Mexican businessman Carlos Slim -- who was number seven on Thursday in Forbes magazine's real-time rankings of the world's richest people, with a net worth of $67.1 billion -- is the main investor in the airport.

He has led the business community's criticism of Lopez Obrador, who won the presidency in a resounding victory in July.

"Canceling the project would amount to canceling the economic growth of the country," Slim said in April.

Slim's construction company CICSA was awarded the $4.7 billion contract to build the airport's terminal in a consortium with six other companies.

Pena Nieto's government says the new airport would create up to 450,000 jobs and have the capacity to handle 125 million passengers a year when fully operational.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized UN agency, supports the building of the new airport.

Lopez Obrador's decision to submit the airport project to a public vote has been widely questioned.

Mexicans line up to vote in a referendum on the construction of a new airport for Mexico City -- the...
Mexicans line up to vote in a referendum on the construction of a new airport for Mexico City -- the vote is expected to last four days

Voters rejected the airport plan in a four-day referendum that was one of the leftist politician's campaign promises.

However, the referendum was not organized by the national electoral authorities and critics have pointed to cases of voters casting multiple votes.

An AFP journalist said it was possible to cast a ballot in more than one place on Thursday, after the failure of a computer system that was meant to centralize the voter rolls.

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