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Dubai pride falls flat in towering tribute to oil-rich neighbour

It was heralded as Dubai's crowning achievement but the cash-strapped state has had to swallow its pride and rename the world's tallest building after its financial rescuer -- the ruler of its oil-rich neighbour.

The humiliating announcement was made by Dubai's own leader at yesterday's dazzling launch of the $1.5bn (e1bn) Burj Dubai, which will now be known as Burj Khalifa in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates.

The launch was intended to be the latest grand statement announcing Dubai's further emergence on to the world stage. Instead, a massive fireworks display to inaugurate the 828m (2,716ft) megalith could not disguise the reality that Dubai's achievements are not its own so long as Abu Dhabi is picking up the tab.

In the past 12 months, Dubai has witnessed the collapse of its property market, driving down real estate values by 50pc.

Confidence within international financial markets that it could honour its debts evaporated when one of its biggest state-backed companies asked for a loan repayment holiday in November.



Lifeline

Abu Dhabi has had to step in to bail its neighbour out, lending Dubai $25bn (e17bn) to meet its immediate obligations. Few doubt that more is to follow.

There has been speculation for weeks about what Abu Dhabi might extract for the financial lifeline. Few expected the price to be so public.

Minutes before the tower's official opening last night Dubai's hereditary ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, dedicated it to the head of Abu Dhabi's ruling family -- who did not grace the ceremony with his presence.

Both leaders will be hoping that the building defies precedents. Similar mega-buildings -- and this one is more than 300m taller than the previous record-holder in Taipei -- typically run into problems after being commissioned in a fit of excessive optimism at the top of a market that has turned to bust by the time construction has finished.

The timing of the Burj Khalifa seems to have followed this pattern. Emerging near the summit after an ear-popping lift ride to its 124th floor, one is reminded of how far Dubai has to go, seeing how much of the city remains incomplete.

hnews@herald.ie


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