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China says goodbye to World Expo

Shanghai on Sunday shuts the gates to the World Expo - a six-month exhibition of culture and technology that saw record attendance, a parade of foreign leaders and a display of China's growing power.

Organisers say Expo has been a roaring success, pointing to the more than 71 million visitors who toured the massive site and the 189 countries that took part, and could have far-reaching benefits for the city and the nation.

"This Expo could be a landmark for the process of Chinese modernisation," Expo Assistant Secretary General Xu Bo told AFP.

"The Expo gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn how to be a global citizen. This learning process is just a start, but it will have a very profound influence on the behaviour of Chinese people."

For China, the World's Fair offered an opportunity to showcase its growing economic and political clout - an opportunity it considered to be on a par with its successful hosting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to be the final major guest on Sunday, joining a line of foreign VIPs that has included kings, presidents and military strongmen.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were among those who toured the 5.3-square-kilometre (two-square-mile) site - more than twice the size of Monaco.

Also on the list were leaders rarely seen at international events including Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Myanmar's military ruler Senior General Than Shwe.

Fewer than five percent of Chinese have opportunities to travel abroad, and the Expo - the theme of which was "Better City, Better Life" - allowed them to connect firsthand with the world like never before, Xu said.

Nations showed off treasures both old and new. Denmark allowed its prized Little Mermaid statue out of the country for the first time, while France brought a priceless set of seven 19th-century masterpieces.

Surprise additions included Spain's newly won World Cup trophy and a model of the capsule used in this month's dramatic rescue of 33 miners in Chile.

The United States presented jazz legend Herbie Hancock in concert, Canada staged a series of spectacles orchestrated by Cirque du Soleil and the tiny island of Cape Verde brought singer Cesaria Evora.

Expo's most tangible legacy will be the two decades' worth of infrastructure investments that Shanghai fast-tracked for the event.

The city added hundreds of kilometres (miles) of new track for new and extended lines - spending nearly 300 billion yuan (45 billion dollars) to expand the subway system alone.

Shanghai's neo-classical Bund was restored to its 1930s glory, with the riverfront park widened by 40 percent and three-quarters of the traffic rerouted underground.

A new domestic airport opened, along with several high-speed rail lines.

But renovations came at a price - historic buildings were razed and activists claim thousands of people were forcibly evicted, though Shanghai officials insist all relocations were conducted according to the law.

The Expo brought an estimated 80 billion yuan in tourism revenue to Shanghai and neighbouring areas, according to figures reported by the official Xinhua news agency.

Outside China, the Expo propelled Shanghai onto magazine covers, newspaper front pages and television programmes at a time when it is laying the groundwork to become an international financial centre by 2020.

"A lot of articles showcased Shanghai as the new New York - as an international city, as a growing city, as a city that has transformed itself," said Antoine Bourdeix, country representative for Publicis Consultants.

As part of its role as public relations advisers to the Expo, Bourdeix's team tracked media reports in seven countries across Asia, Europe, and North America.

The volume of Shanghai stories overseas grew more than sixfold around the Expo's May 1 opening compared with a year earlier, Bourdeix said.

Expo also helped elevate Shanghai to "it" city status as companies ranging from Louis Vuitton to Levi's launched new products. Cinema auteur David Lynch even filmed an ad campaign for Dior starring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard.

But for some, the Expo's defining memory will be the crowds.

After five visits to Expo, 34-year-old Shanghai insurance company manager Sylvia Yu said she enjoyed learning about the world - "mostly what people in various countries look like".

But for her, organisers' obsession with numbers - state-owned firms bought up tickets to ensure a record-breaking attendance - led to hours-long lines that ruined the experience for some.

"They are talking about breaking 70 million. What's to be excited about? People could not see stuff. They were only wandering around in the park. They saw a long queue here and took a bus to somewhere else, only to find out an even longer queue," Yu said.