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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

China gets rail project in Mecca, worth $1.77 billion

This is a major deal, while Hu is visiting Saudi Arabia.

China gets rail project in Mecca

China is to sign a deal with Saudi Arabia to build a light rail system in Mecca to help transport millions of pilgrims, a senior diplomat said.

Yang Honglin, Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told China Daily the deal will be signed "soon" but he didn't confirm whether it would be done during President Hu Jintao's three-day visit to the country, which started yesterday.

"China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) is now talking with the Saudi Arabian authorities about the deal," Yang said.

CRCC, along with a Saudi Arabian company and a French transport company, will finish the project in 2013, International Islamic News Agency reported.

A source with the Foreign Ministry said CRCC's deal is worth $1.77 billion. But the company yesterday refused to confirm that figure.

With a speed of 360 km p h the rail line will be able to take pilgrims from Mecca to Medina, the two holiest sites in Islam, in just half an hour, it said.

It will be able to "rapidly evacuate the crowd at the peak of the Hajj pilgrimage", Yang said.

According to Yang, Saudi Arabia entrusted the Chinese government to designate a Chinese enterprise for the project last month. It was the first inter-governmental project between the two countries after they agreed to consolidate cooperation on infrastructure construction last summer.

Saudi media reported last October that their government intended to invest $5.3 billion in five light rail systems linking key locations of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in west Saudi Arabia, including Mecca, Mina and the Hill of Arafat.

The lines will reportedly be able to carry 5 million pilgrims.

Visit of cooperation

Hu's ongoing visit to the country is his second in three years and is the first trip overseas he has made this year.

"This reflects that the Chinese leadership highly values the strategic friendly relations with Saudi Arabia," Yang said.

It was reported China Petroleum & Chemical Corp, Asia's biggest oil processor, and Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil exporter, may sign crude supply and refinery service accords during Hu's visit.

Saudi Arabia has been the largest overseas supplier of crude oil to China.

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