ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia opened a new train line on Wednesday linking its land-locked capital to the Red Sea state of Djibouti, part of Addis Ababa's infrastructure program aimed at turning the poor, agrarian nation into an industrial hub.
Ethiopia's economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa, even though it has suffered a severe drought for at least the past two years. Growth has been fueled by construction of railways, roads and hydro-electric dams to power industry.
Ethiopian Railways Corporation spokesman Dereje Tefera said the $4 billion, Chinese-built 750-km (470-mile) electrified line "will minimize the cost of the transport and the transport time and it's free from pollution, it uses renewable energy."
"It's part of the trans-African railway network so it will give an opportunity for connecting Ethiopia with other neighboring countries," Dereje said of the line which will be operated by Chinese workers until Ethiopians are trained.
Ethiopia's economic development has long been hampered by poor roads and an aging fleet of trucks, which ply the route between the industrial heartlands in the center of the country and Djibouti, Ethiopia's main import and export route.
The government is facing a wave of protests, often involving clashes with police, over land rights and other political issues. Locals say the authorities grab land for new industry but offer them little compensation.
(Reporting by Aaron Maasho and Reuters Television; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Janet Lawrence)