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[PANAMA CITY] Panama's expansion of its century-old canal, which has suffered costly overruns and major delays, is now to be complete "around the month of May," President Juan Carlos Varela said Saturday.
The leader, speaking in an address to the nation, also urged the Spanish-led consortium behind the project to leave legal disputes to the "competent authorities" and focus on completing its work on the waterway.
The appeal came after a Dispute Adjudication Board hearing a budget overrun row ordered the state's Panama Canal Authority to pay the consortium US$17 million for extra labor costs and for a strike called by workers.
"With respect, I am calling on the contractors for the expansion project to hold dialogue with the Panama Canal Authority, to allow work to be completed, to leave legal disputes in the hands of the competent authorities and to avoid mediatized differences that in no way help the image of the contractors, the Canal Authority and the Republic of Panama," Mr Varela said.
The consortium, Grupo Unidos por el Canal de Panama, started the expansion work on the canal in 2007. The project is well behind schedule.
The extensions were originally meant to have been completed in October 2014 but were then pushed back to an April 2016 deadline.
Mr Varela's announcement indicated that that may have slipped again, to May this year.
The work on the century-old canal aims to triple its capacity.
The cost of the work was projected at US$5.3 billion, but that has been greatly exceeded.
Mr Varela also said it was "imperative" to start a study on developing a river basin to guarantee water supplies for human use and for the functioning of the canal.