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Fireworks As World's Tallest Skyscraper Is Opened In Dubai

PTI 05 Jan 2010, 12:09:01 PM IST
PTI

Dubai opened the world's tallest skyscraper on Monday, and in a surprise move renamed the gleaming glass-and-metal tower Burj Khalifa in a nod to the leader of neighbouring Abu Dhabi - the oil-rich sheikdom which came to its rescue during the financial meltdown.

A lavish presentation witnessed by Dubai's ruler and thousands of onlookers at the base of the tower said the building was 828 metres, or 2717 feet, tall. 

Dubai is opening the tower in the midst of a deep financial crisis. Its oil rich neighbour Abu Dhabi has pumped billions of US dollars in bailout funds into the emirate as it struggles to pay its debts. 

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and serves as the president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the federation of seven small emirates, including Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

Analysts have questioned what Dubai might need to offer in exchange for the financial support it has received from Abu Dhabi, which controls nearly all of the UAE's oil wealth. 

Abu Dhabi provided direct and indirect injections totalling 25 billion US dollars last year as Dubai's debt problems deepened.  Dubai's hereditary ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in recent months has increasingly underscored the close relationship between the two emirates.

Sheikh Mohammed serves as vice president and prime minister of the UAE federation.

The developer of the newly opened tower said it cost about 1.5 (b) billion US dollars to build the tapering metal-and-glass spire billed as a "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices.

It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.  The Burj's developers say they are confident in the safety of the tower, which is more than twice the height of New York's Empire State Building's roof.

Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects, said the Burj has "refuge floors" at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency.  And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.

Thousands of cheering, clapping spectators watched as a tally projected on huge screens at the opening ceremony revealed the tower's most closely guarded secret, its height of 2,717 feet.  That made it more than 1,000 feet  higher than the skyscraper known as Taipei 101 in Taiwan, which at 1,667 feet (508 meters) had been the world's tallest since 2004.

Despite the past year of hardships, the tower's developer and other officials were in a festive mood, trying to bring the world's focus on Dubai's future potential rather than past mistakes.

Dubai, which has little oil of its own, relied on cheap loans to pump up its international clout during the frenzied boom years.  But like many overextended homeowners, the emirate and its state-backed companies borrowed too heavily and then struggled to keep up with payments as the financial crisis intensified and credit markets froze up. 

Meanwhile, speculators who had fuelled Dubai's property bubble disappeared along with the easy money, revealing a glut of brand-new but empty homes and crippling many of the emirate's property developers  The sheikdom shocked global markets late last year when it unexpectedly announced plans to reorganise its main state-run conglomerate Dubai World and sought new terms in repaying some 26 billion US dollars in debt.  It got some succour from a 10 billion US dollar bailout provided by its richer neighbour and UAE capital Abu Dhabi last month.  That was on top of 15 billion US dollars in emergency funds provided by Abu Dhabi-based financiers earlier in the year.

Burj developer Emaar is itself partly owned by the Dubai government, but is not part of struggling Dubai World, which has investments ranging from Dubai's manmade islands and seaports to luxury retailer Barneys New York and the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2. AP