Egypt to open Suez Canal expansion

Cairo (dpa) - Egypt is to inaugurate on Thursday a major expansion of the Suez Canal, with the government hoping the project will boost the country's flagging economy.

President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi will be joined by foreign dignitaries at a grand opening ceremony for the new shipping route in the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya.

French President Francois Hollande has confirmed his attendance at the gala alongside other political leaders from Cyprus, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait and Sudan, according to local media.

The government has declared Thursday a public holiday. Train journeys will also be free on the day to give people the chance to celebrate what pro-government media have dubbed "Egypt's gift to the world".

The nation is preparing for street celebrations to mark the event and main squares have been colourfully decorated with lights and the national flag.

Militant attacks

Last year, al-Sisi announced the construction of the 72km-long lane, which has been funded solely by Egyptian investors.

He demanded that the route be completed within a single year, tightening the original three-year deadline for the project. Egypt's struggling economy could not afford to wait longer, Sisi said.

The eight-billion-dollar waterway is the first major project completed since Sisi, an ex-army general, took office last year.

The expansion will allow two-way traffic along the Suez Canal, the shortest shipping route between Asia and Europe which dates back 146 years.

The Suez Canal provides one of Egypt's main sources of income alongside tourism and remittances from expatriates.

Egyptian authorities forecast that the new route will increase the Suez Canal's annual revenue from 5 billion dollars at present to $13.2bn by 2023.

Security has been enhanced nationwide for Thursday's celebrations, following an increase in militant attacks in recent months. These have been particularly frequent on the Sinai Peninsula which borders the Suez Canal.