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By Diadie Ba
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade marked the start of his second term on Wednesday by laying the foundation stone of a new $460-million (about R3,3-billion) airport, the latest major infrastructure project in the West African country.
"This airport is the first of the big projects I want to build during my five-year term. Infrastructure is not a luxury for Africa, it is a necessity for development," the octogenarian president said at an event inaugurating work on the airport.
Wade took the oath of office for a second term on Tuesday at a ceremony attended by almost a score of presidents from across Africa. He won a February election in which opponents say his side bought votes and doctored the electoral roll.
The Senegalese leader had campaigned on a pledge to create jobs and complete a major public works programme.
Much of the capital Dakar has turned into a construction site while modern highways and hotels are built, partly for an Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit due to be held here next year.
After presiding over a military parade marking Wednesday's national day celebrations, Wade inaugurated work on the new airport 45km inland from Dakar, which is on a spit of land that is mainland Africa's most westerly point.
Saudi Binladin Group, which is owned by the estranged family of Osama Bin Laden and has built more than two dozen airports around the world, will lead the building consortium.
Wade said the airport would not cost the state "a penny".
Karim Wade, the president's influential son, adviser and head of the airport's financing committee, said income from passenger taxes from Dakar's existing airport over the past two years had been kept in an account to help finance the project.
"With the help of the Banque Marocaine pour le Commerce Exterieur and BNP-Paribas, we have been able to mobilise nearly 350-million euros (about R3,3-billion), or around 230-billion CFA francs, on international financial markets," he said.
Germany's Fraport will manage the airport, in which the Senegalese state will own a 45 percent stake, with the remaining 55 percent held by Aeroport International Blaise Diagne SA, a company owned by Senegalese investors.
Used as a hub for flights from Africa to Europe, the United States and Brazil, Dakar's existing airport has seen traffic grow rapidly in recent years, but its location, surrounded by Dakar's suburbs, limits its potential to grow.
The new airport, named after the first black African elected to France's parliament in 1914, Blaise Diagne, should take 30 months to build and have an initial capacity of 3 million passengers a year - almost double the 1.7 million annual traffic handled by the existing airport, a statement said.
It is also intended to attract more foreign tourists to Senegal and fuel the growth of a planned new economic development zone outside Dakar.