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Construction of new Mexico airport rejected in referendum

Incoming leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the environmental impact of the project and said it is marred by corruption
Incoming leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticized the environmental impact of the project and said it is marred by corruption AFP
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Mexico City (AFP)

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

With 98 percent 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 December 1, had threatened to cancel the multi-billion-dollar new airport, charging it was a waste of taxpayer money.

The soon-to-be president, a former Mexico City mayor, has also criticized the environmental impact of the project -- whose estimated cost is more than $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 aging current airport, which handled nearly 45 million passengers last year.

Lopez Obrador says instead of building a new terminal northeast 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 Lopez Obrador, who won the presidency in a resounding victory in July.

"Canceling the project would amount to canceling the economic growth of the country," Slim said in April.

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

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.

Lopez Obrador's decision to submit the airport project -- a technical one that has implications for air safety -- to a public vote has been widely questioned.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized UN agency, supports the building of the new airport.

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.

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