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Mexico court lets president's pet airport go ahead

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Mexico City (AFP)

A Mexican court decided Wednesday to allow construction to go ahead on a new airport pushed by the president, who is locked in a row with the business community over the project.

The ruling is a victory for leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who campaigned against his predecessor's "corruption-plagued" plan for a new $13-billion airport for Mexico City, and wants to replace it with a rival project.

Instead of building the sleek new airport -- which would have replaced the badly overstretched existing one -- Lopez Obrador wants to keep the current airport and supplement it with another one at the site of what is currently the Santa Lucia military airbase, at a cost of $4 billion.

His decision to cancel the previous airport project in the suburb of Texcoco, which was already one-third complete, triggered backlash from investors and a flood of lawsuits from civil society and business groups, which obtained a series of court orders freezing construction at the airbase.

However, judges have gradually lifted those court orders in recent days. Wednesday's was the final one.

"There are no more restraining orders blocking them from starting work on the project," said Gerardo Carrasco, a lawyer for a coalition that tried to block it.

"We were already expecting the court to rule this way," he told AFP.

Carrasco said the group would continue fighting in court "to demonstrate that this was not the best decision for Mexico" and ultimately block the project.

The president's office announced he would preside over a groundbreaking ceremony at the airbase Thursday.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, scrapped the Texcoco project after holding a referendum on the issue that was plagued by irregularities.

The decision sparked outrage among investors, including the project's chief backer, the telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim.

Slim, the world's fifth-richest person according to Forbes magazine, warned that canceling the project would amount to "canceling the economic growth of the country."

The Mexican capital's current airport is aging poorly and badly saturated.

The busiest in Latin America, it handled nearly 48 million passengers last year, despite an official capacity of 32 million.

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