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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
Coca Cola returns to Afghanistan
woman beggar
A woman begs under a Coca Cola poster in Kabul
More than a decade after the Coca Cola bottling plant in Afghanistan was ravaged by artillery fire, the company is back with a gleaming new facility in capital, Kabul.

The new bottling plant in the Bagrami Industrial area of Kabul has been set up with $25m, creating jobs for 350 people on a 60,000 square metre site.

Inaugurating the state-of-the-art plant on Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the investment was "an important step forward for economic growth, self-sufficiency and better future of Afghanistan".

But many Kabul residents disagree with the president.

The Associated Press news agency quoted Jomaa Gul, whose father worked in the bombed-out old Coke plant, as saying, "What Afghanistan needs now is investment not to make soft drinks, but for new hospitals and to end the violence."

Easy target

Mr Gul who lives in the ruins of the old plant says, "We have no running water, no electricity and no sanitation. Hospitals and security are more worthy investments for $25m than a soft drink plant."

Although the administration is upbeat about the plant and hopes that other foreign investors will follow Coke into Afghanistan, many admit that the plant could become an easy target for the Taleban militants fighting the US-supported Karzai government.

Bottling plant
Coke's new bottling plant in Kabul

Violence has been increasing in recent months. A car bomb in Kabul last Friday killed 16 people.

"Knowing the image worldwide of Coca Cola as an American icon, we told our local partner that you may be noticed more now than before," Coke's Turkey-based regional manager Selcuk Erden told AP.

'Bright future'

The facility's owner, wealthy Dubai-based Afghan businessman Habibullah Gulzar, says he is aware of the dangers.

"There is a security problem, I cannot hide that, but the future is bright," Mr Gulzar told AP.

"My first priority is how we can build up the skill of the people, because once the employment comes to the country and there is economic growth, peace and security will follow," he said.

The facility, which can produce 15 million, 24-bottle cases of the soft drink annually, will initially produce Coke's three most popular brands - Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite - for the Afghan market.

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