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BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Congo Republic has successfully tested the first of four turbines at the Chinese-funded Imboulou Hydroelectric Dam hoped to plug longstanding power shortages holding back its economy.
The turbine, launched by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso will provide 30 Megawatts (MW) of the dam's overall capacity of 120 MW.
"This launch by the head of state is conclusive -- it is a success because the turbine works normally, as planned," project coordinator Leon Armand Ibovi told reporters.
Work on the Imboulou Dam, 200 km (125 miles) from the capital Brazzaville, was started in 2003 and is due to be completed by the end of 2010 with the assembly and testing of a further three turbines.
The transmission network between the dam site and Brazzaville is already 80 percent complete.
"These 30 MW will be entirely dedicated to Brazzaville, whilst awaiting the launch in March of a second turbine which is already 50 percent assembled" said Congolese Energy Minister Jean Richard Itoua at the launch on Wednesday.
The cost of the project is estimated at $280 million, of which China has financed 80 percent through a long-term repayable loan, with 15 percent provided by Congo itself. As many as 2,000 Congolese and 400 Chinese construction workers have been involved, as well as some 20 Germans.
Congo Republic has sought to rebuild its economy through infrastructure projects following civil wars in the 1990s. The economy of the oil-producer is seen growing at 12 percent in 2010, among the highest rates in Africa.
On Thursday it announced it had met the stringent anti-corruption and governance conditions needed to benefit fully from debt relief the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) scheme managed by the IMF and the World Bank.
The IMF, with whom Congo began debt relief talks in 2001, estimated the debt cancellation was worth $1.9 billion.