Panama votes for 'historic facelift' to its ageing canal

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The Independent US

Panamanians have backed plans to double the capacity of the Panama Canal, the largest modernisation project in its 92-year history.

About 79 per cent of voters supported the $5.25bn (£2.8bn) plan to extend the canal in a referendum according to preliminary results released last night.

Speaking before the results were announced, President Martin Torrijossaid the country had made "the most important decision of this generation".

But critics claimed the expansion would benefit the canal's customers more than Panamanians, and worry that costs could balloon for this debt- ridden country.

The project, expected to be completed by 2015, aims to build a third set of locks on the Pacific and Atlantic ends of the canal, allowing it to handle modern ships too large for its current 33-metre-wide locks.

It will be funded by toll increases and is expected to generate up to 40,000 new jobs in a country where 40 per cent of the people live in poverty.