8 million visitors expected at Expo in Spain

Expo 2008 will be hosted in the Spanish city of Zaragoza from June 14 to Sept. 14. Organisers expect around 8 million visitors at the event which will be dedicated to the theme of "Water and Sustainable Development".


King Juan Carlos on Friday opened the Expo 2008 on the theme of "water and sustainable development", hoping to attract 6.5 million visitors and draw the world's attention to one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century.

The Zaragoza expo aims to "raise the world's awareness of water as a resource that is precious for man and Earth," Juan Carlos said.

Queen Sofia and members of the royal family as well as Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and other Spanish officials also attended the opening of the three-month-long event on the banks of the river Ebro in the capital of the northern region of Aragon.

However, a performance on the river, on a floating platform in the form of an iceberg, was cancelled due to heavy rains and floods last month.

The wettest spring in the region since 1930 also forced the postponement of rehearsals and caused construction delays.

The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi and Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva were among around 5,000 invited guests.

From 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) they watched the opening speeches followed by an open-air spectacle, "The Pleasure of Water".

From Saturday, the public can visit the 140 pavilions from 102 participating countries at the 25-hectare (61.7-acre) site, which includes an aquarium and a museum housed in a new river bridge designed by Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid.

Around 5,000 shows are planned, including a concert by Bob Dylan on June 23 and others by Gloria Estefan and Ruben Blades.

The Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian-based circus and entertainment troupe, will perform every day along the main avenues of the site.

The Expo hopes to make visitors reflect on the problems associated with water, or the lack of it, around the world.

Several zones have particular themes, such "sharing water" or "thirst." "Fluvi", the Expo's blue mascot, is in the form of a drop of water.

Two pavilions stand out for their unusual architecture: that of the Aragon region, which is in the form of a huge basket, and that of Spain, which is surrounded by massive pillars meant to represent a pine forest.

The "Water Platform" is to stage debates on the economic, social and environmental aspects of water throughout the world.

Around 2,000 experts from across the world are to take part in the debates, which conclude on September 11 with an International Symposium on Water and Sustainable Development and the signing of the Charter of Zaragoza.

Each participating country will have the right to a "national day" during the Expo, allowing it to organise special events and invite personalities.

Organisers expect 15 percent of visitors to come from overseas.

Municipal authorities also see the expo as a chance to put the city, which is full of history but still little known overseas, on the international tourist map.

The expo is open from June 14 to September 14 and the entrance fee is 35 euros (54 dollars).

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