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Saudi King launches US$23b Riyadh beautification programme

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Saudi Arabia's King Salman plans to pour US$23 billion into beautifying its capital, Riyadh, with projects expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and provide new leisure opportunities in a city starved for them.

[RIYADH] Saudi Arabia plans to pour US$23 billion into beautifying its capital, Riyadh, with projects expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and provide new leisure opportunities in a city starved for them.

In addition to the kingdom's investment, the projects will create opportunities for US$15 billion in private sector financing, the government said. Preliminary design work is under way, and construction is to begin in the second half of the year, it said.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will head the committee overseeing the projects, which are designed to transform Riyadh into "one of the world's most livable cities," according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. Reporters were abruptly summoned to a briefing on the plans, released a day after the UK's Guardian newspaper reported that Prince Mohammed has been stripped of some of his power amid a growing rift with King Salman.

The government hasn't commented on the report, and separately, state television announced the king has ordered a road in Riyadh named after the prince.

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The projects include King Salman Park, envisioned as one of the largest city parks in the world, including residential construction, hotels and an arts complex; a Sports Boulevard spanning the city from east to west, with paths for bicycles, pedestrians and horses; the display of works by local and international artists around the city and a 16-fold increase of green space, per capita.

The plans are likely to be widely popular following energy subsidy cuts and new taxes implemented after the 2014 plunge in oil prices. Saudis often complain about the lack of green space and cultural activities in their dusty, sprawling capital. Some have also privately grumbled that money being spent on megaprojects like Neom, a planned $500 billion futuristic city, would be better spent improving the qualify of life in existing cities.

The news agency said the plans are expected to create 70,000 jobs for citizens, another feature likely to resonate positively in an economy struggling to recover from a downturn and tamp down 12.8 per cent unemployment.

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