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The BBC's Julia Wheeler in Dubai
"Dubai is positioning itself at the forefront of high tech trade."
 real 28k

Sunday, 29 October, 2000, 05:51 GMT
Dubai launches Internet City
Dubai
Dubai - pushing for Middle East e-supremacy
Dubai has taken what it hopes will be a major step in establishing itself as the e-commerce centre for the Middle East by opening an 'Internet City' free trade zone.

The $200m site is designed to lure international information technology companies attracted by tax-free trading.

"I had a vision to transform the old economy by making Dubai a hub for the new economy," Dubai's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Rashid told the audience at the opening ceremony for Dubai Internet City on Saturday.

Nearly 200 companies have registered to operate from the 37,000 square metre site. 350 more applications are being considered.

In a spectacular opening ceremony pictures were projected onto a huge white cloth that covered the four main buildings of the internet city.

Video broadcasts

An array of major information technology companies, including Microsoft, Compaq, Siemens, Hewlett Packard and IBM sent video messages that were broadcast to the 1,000 strong audience.

Dubai
Dubai is the Gulf's commercial capital

"In one year, I wish to see new economy businesses operating out of Dubai," Sheikh Mohammad said.

"This is the project to be pursued with energy and efficiency... this is Dubai's future."

Dubai has always been a trading hub for the Gulf region.

A BBC correspondent in Dubai says there appears to be genuine backing for the internet city with major companies relocating there.

'Not cosmetic'

Although for many companies that may mean simply a consolidation of existing business within the Emirates, they reject the idea their plans are simply cosmetic.

Bahram Mohazzebi is the General Manager of Microsoft in the region.

"If you look into the idea behind Dubai Internet City, which basically says, 'I'm going to get the innovative people and innovative companies, put them next to each other, create a synergy and give them the best infrastructure possible, and integrate that to the local environment, local businesses, be it private or public,' then, I guess, it's not cosmetic any more," Mr Mohazzebi told the BBC.

The inaugaration of the Dubai Internet City coincided with the opening of the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition at the Dubai World Trade Centre - the Middle East's largest annual information technology event.

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