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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 September 2005, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Thai PM opens unfinished airport
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

A Thai Airways plane carrying Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and officials arrives at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, 29 Sept
The new airport is unlikely to be fully open until 2006
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has presided over a symbolic opening of Bangkok's new international airport, by landing there on a special flight.

The new airport, which is seen as crucial to Thailand's tourist industry, was first planned 45 years ago.

Mr Thaksin had originally promised it would be finished by today, Thursday, but it is now not expected to be fully operational for another year.

Claims of incompetence and corruption have dogged the $4bn project.

For the first time since it was dreamed up, Suvarnabhumi (Golden Land) airport, was thronged with people.

These people were not regular passengers, though, but an entourage of cabinet ministers, dignitaries and airport employees all brought in for one day to sustain the illusion that Bangkok's new international gateway is open for business.

This extravagant spectacle was organised on the orders of Prime Minister Thaksin, because he had promised the country that the airport would be completed by Thursday.

The expanses of bare concrete, unsurfaced roads and half finished buildings told a different story though.

Even the government now concedes the airport will not be ready to handle commercial flights until June next year.

Corruption allegations

Industry experts believe there could be further delays to the project - which has already been dogged by delays and allegations of corruption, one of which cost the transport minister his job two months ago.

Airlines are complaining that the charges at the new airport will be too high, and that it will not be capable of handling baggage fast enough.

These concerns were brushed aside by the prime minister as he toured the impressive terminal buildings on Thursday.

He insists the airport will beat its rivals in the region to become East Asia's dominant transport hub - a goal his critics say is within reach, but only if the government acknowledges its past mistakes.

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