Lavish celebrations as Egypt's Sisi opens new Suez Canal

Cairo: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi today opened a new USD 9 billion Suez Canal amid lavish celebrations as Egypt unveiled its 'gift to the world', a historic waterway that will run parallel to the existing one amid hopes of boosting the country's ailing economy.

Sisi, dressed in a military uniform, flew in to the venue Ismailia city in a military chopper, with at least 90 official delegations, including India's led by Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.

Sisi praised his countrymen for their efforts. "Egyptians exerted a great effort to offer a gift to the world.

"We are writing the history of a new model for a new Egypt. Suez Canal has always been part of Egyptian glory," he said."We ask our friends to help us make our goals a reality."

The president earlier today boarded the monarchy-era Al Mahrousa yacht -- the first ship to pass through the Suez Canal after the historic waterway was opened in November, 1869 -- as part of the opening ceremony in which he crossed the 72-kilometre new extension flanked by air and naval forces.

Celebrations could be seen all over the country, with people in cities gathering in front of huge screens that aired the opening of the project, and holding Egyptian flags and banners that read "New Suez Canal: Egypt's Gift to the World".

The new Suez Canal Axis is aimed at speeding up traffic along the existing waterway by reducing the waiting period of vessels from 18 hours to 11, as well as boosting revenues for Egypt. It was funded entirely by the Egyptian people and cost about USD 9 billion.

The project will run part of the way along the existing canal that connects Red Sea to the Mediterranean and is likely to create more economic opportunities for the country.

Gadkari, who represented India at the inaugural ceremony on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, met Sisi yesterday and invited him to visit India for the third India-Africa Forum Summit in October.

He described the project as a great achievement which would promote economic development of Egypt and the region. Gadkari also congratulated his Egyptian counterpart Eng Hany Dahy on the project's completion in record 11 months. Built 146 years ago, the Suez Canal has been a point of national pride since Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised it in June, 1956.

Sisi ordered the canal project last August, shortly after being elected as President, and set an ambitious target of 12 months to finish the project although some estimates suggested it could take up to three years.

Egypt began the trial runs of new Suez canal late last month ahead of the formal inauguration.

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