Spain's King Juan Carlos opened Expo 2008, the theme of which is the world's water shortage, in the city of Saragossa. Millions of people are expected to visit the exhibition before it closes in September. (Report : A.Percept, C.Perrouault, T.Elven)
SARAGOSSA, Spain, June 14 (Reuters) - Expo 2008, themed on the world's dwindling water resources, opened in the Spanish city of Saragossa on Saturday, days after the riverside site narrowly escaped flooding.
King Juan Carlos officially opened the 25-hectare (62-acre) exhibition on Friday night. Organisers hope 6.5 million people will visit before it closes in mid-September, providing a major economic boost to the northern city, Spain's fifth largest.
"I believe that the hope of a new vision for water, which is what the Saragossa Expo is all about, is one of the world's great needs," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said at the opening ceremony.
Hundreds were already queueing when Expo opened its gates to the public and Mexican President Felipe Calderon was on hand to open his country's stand during an official visit to Spain.
Ironically, the site was almost flooded last month during Spain's wettest May in decades, provoking a frantic finish to construction that began three years after Saragossa beat Greek and Italian rivals for the right to host the event.
The first visitors on Saturday crossed from the city to the Expo site via a futuristic bridge, built by Baghdad-born architect Zaha Hadid, aoross the Ebro, Spain's biggest river.around different climate zones and representing 105 countries.
Organisers stress Expo's environmentally friendly credentials. The site is four times smaller than that built for Seville when Spain last hosted an Expo in 1992, and even the tourist shop's carrier bags are made of potato starch.
Two thousand environmental experts will produce a "Saragossa Charter" outlining recommendations to solve problems such as the lack of clean water for 1.2 billion people and the danger of wars fought over dwindling water resources.
But Expo has its critics, notably environmental campaign group Greenpeace, which is not taking part.
"Thousands of square metres of roads, buildings and bridges have been built, paradoxically created in the defence of nature, which in addition will be used to attract thousands of visitors," a Greenpeace statement said.
In many parts of Spain last winter was the driest since 1948/49 and the nearby city of Barcelona almost imposed water rationing.
The three-month extravaganza cost 700 million euros (1.07 billion US dollars) to build, most of the money coming from central government. For Saragossa it has already proved a boon thanks to government spending on associated road and rail projects.
"Saragossa was stuck, dead, and this will be fantastic for infrastructure and tourism," one veteran taxi driver said.
Date created : 2008-06-15