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Malaysia unveils grandiose new capital

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia's government unveiled its massive new capital Friday, touting it as the salvation for the country's battered economy and a shining example of its grand vision for the future.

Putrajaya, a garden metropolis about three-fourths the size of Manhattan, aims to eventually house 330,000 government workers. But it is far from complete now. Dozens of high-rise complexes are dwarfed by fields of red mud and surrounded by cranes and dump trucks at the site, 22 miles south of Kuala Lumpur.But officials were exultant.

"The continued development of Putrajaya has helped the country's economy to recover," said Azizan Zainal Abidin, president of the project's developer, Putrajaya Holdings. "Putrajaya has helped the (construction) industry from collapsing altogether."

Azizan echoed Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's call for Malaysia to spend its way out of recession, telling reporters on a state-sponsored tour that the situation could be corrected only by prodding Malaysia's economy, which contracted 6.7 percent last year after decades of galloping growth.

The government has allotted more than $526 million to build schools, health-care facilities and public amenities in Putrajaya over the next decade.

Azizan hedged on the city's total cost, saying he could not give a figure until all the plans had been made. Another Putrajaya official estimated the company has spent up to $1.3 billion already to develop the first of three phases.

The scale of the project is grandiose.

As a visitor is waved past the gate and driven along Protocol Road, futuristic street lamps become more elaborate near Mahathir's green-domed offices in the city center.

The brownstone edifice with green glass windows is the size of several city blocks and surrounded by artificial mangrove lakes. Mahathir and his staff are supposed to move in by the end of June.

Mahathir's palatial residence, just five minutes' drive away, is also topped by a green dome and built at a cost of $4.6 million.

Opposition leaders, including his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, say the actual cost for the complex was at least 10 times that.

"The prime minister envisaged all this 15 years ago," Azizan said as he walked the gabled corridors of the pink-domed Putra mosque, which claims to have one of the world's tallest minarets at 380 feet.

The mosque for 15,000 worshippers will house a museum for rare copies of the Koran, Islam's holy book.

Officials estimate it will take another 15 years for Mahathir's vision to be fulfilled.

"We're building this for our future generations," Azizan said. "It's our heritage. It must be of the character that the next generation will be proud of."