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China, AU Mark Start of Construction of New AU Conference Center

To the sound of horns, the revving of engines by the assembled construction vehicles and much applause from the delegates, the start of the construction of the new conference center of the African Union (AU) in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa was officially declared on Monday by Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC).

Wu was in Addis Ababa to mark the start of the construction of the conference center and the 25-storey office block, which will provide much-needed working space and conference facilities for the pan-African body. His trip also included an official visit to Ethiopia.

The conference center complex will house a 2,550-seat big conference hall, 500 office spaces, a medium conference hall, five meeting rooms, 30 caucus rooms, a multipurpose hall with a capacity of accommodating 3,000 people, an amphitheatre with 3,000 seats, a digital library and archives center, a medical center and various public spaces for utilities such as banks, post and airline ticket offices, among other features.

At the ceremony to mark the occasion, AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping hailed the new construction as a symbol of the strong cooperation and friendship that exists between Africa and China.

" It is an honor and privilege for him to welcome you all to this historical occasion to mark the start of the construction of the AU conference center project," Ping said.

He said African leaders have long cherished the idea of having a facility which can accommodate the needs of the AU, and which befits the organization's status.

"The idea of endowing the AU Commission with a modern conference center and office building facilities befitting its status has always been in the hearts of African leaders for long."

Ping said in this connection they should therefore be proud of having the assistances of the Chinese government for its commitment to design, construct and fully finance such big facilities as a gift to Africa.

The gift from the Chinese government comes at an opportune time when the AU Commission needs more space, he said. "Indeed, this is a wonderful gift from a true and long time friend of Africa. The presence of the high-level Chinese delegation on this occasion is a testimony of the fact that China has attached great importance to its commitment to the success of this project and to its historical and long time friendly relations with Africa," said Ping.

"We are indeed very grateful for that."

Ping thanked Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian government and different government departments for facilitating the construction of the center through the provision of land and other services.

He also expressed his gratitude for former AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare, who initiated the process with the Ethiopian and Chinese authorities.

The idea of the construction was first discussed three years ago.

He pledged the AU Commission will do everything possible to ensure the successful completion of the project as scheduled and would facilitate its tasks.

"Africa will highly value this gift as a special one and honor it with heartfelt appreciation and, it will definitely set the relations of Africa and China on a solid foundation in bearing more fruits of interests for both sides."

In his speech, Wu Bangguo said the start of construction of new AU conference center is another symbol of closer China-Africa friendly relations.

He recalled the historical 2006 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, saying that the summit strengthened the partnership, friendship and cooperation between Africa and China.

At the summit, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced China would build a conference center for AU to support African countries in their efforts to strengthen themselves through unity and support the process of the African integration.

The design of the complex, which includes historical aspects of African culture and tradition, was presented to the 2007 AU summit in Ghana's capital Accra.

The foundation stone for the new conference center was laid in the same year. The work of construction is expected to take three years.

(Xinhua News Agency November 11, 2008)

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