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Construction of new Mexico airport rejected in referendum

Mexico City

MEXICANS voted to halt construction of a controversial new airport for the capital, according to results of a referendum announced on Sunday that saw 69 per cent of voters reject the project.

With 98 per cent of the votes tallied, 747,000 voted in favour of repurposing the Santa Lucia military airport instead, according to Enrique Calderon, president of the Arturo Rosenblueth Foundation, which is in charge of counting the votes.

The 64-year-old incoming leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who succeeds Enrique Pena Nieto on Dec 1, had threatened to cancel the multi-billion-dollar new airport, charging it was a waste of taxpayer money.

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The soon-to-be president, a former Mexico City mayor, has also criticised the environmental impact of the project - whose estimated cost is more than US$13 billion - and said it is marred by corruption.

But the four-day consultation put him on a collision course with the business world, which says the new terminal is needed to ease woes at the ageing current airport, which handled nearly 45 million passengers last year.

Mr Lopez Obrador says that instead of building a new terminal north-east of the capital, a military airbase south of the mega-city could be repurposed.

Billionaire Mexican businessman Carlos Slim is the main investor in the new airport, and has led the business community's criticism of Mr Lopez Obrador, who won the presidency in a resounding victory in July. "Cancelling the project would amount to cancelling the economic growth of the country," Mr Slim said in April.

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

Mr 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.

Mexican voters were asked to answer the following question: "Given the saturation of Mexico City International Airport, which option do you consider to be the best for the country?" Two choices were given: repurposing the Santa Lucia military base, a plan that would also mean renovating the current airport and one in neighboring Toluca; or continuing to build the new one and abandoning the old one. AFP