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Antigua, China investors plan big tourism project

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KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — The new government of Antigua & Barbuda has signed an agreement with Chinese investors to build a major resort and residential development project in the twin-island Caribbean nation.

Gaston Browne became prime minister on Friday after leading his Antigua & Barbuda Labor Party to a dominating win in general elections. Over the weekend, he signed a memorandum of agreement with a Chinese company for a proposed $740 million project on outlying Guiana Island and nearby parcels.

Plans call for the construction of five luxury hotels, 1,300 residential units, a casino, golf course, and marina, among other things.

The 460-acre (184-hectare) Guiana Island and the additional patchwork of land was previously owned by convicted Ponzi schemer R. Allen Stanford, a Texas financier who based his fraudulent offshore banking empire in Antigua and funded the islands' government before his 2009 arrest by U.S. authorities. Developers will have to purchase the roughly 1,500 acres of land from Stanford liquidators.

Browne's Labor Party announced late Sunday that the new prime minister signed the agreement with Yida Zhang, director of Yida International Investment Antigua Ltd., after eight hours of negotiations.

"I promised the people that my administration would bring the type of investments to the country that will transform Antigua & Barbuda into an economic powerhouse and I am serious about that promise," Browne said.

Attorney General and Labor Minister Steadroy C.O. Benjamin said the resort and residential development will provide jobs for a country that was hit hard by the global economic recession and the 2009 collapse of Stanford's fraudulent empire.

"This project will ensure that we move people from unemployed to being employed," Benjamin said.

It's not yet clear how much resistance will be posed by conservation-minded islanders and environmental groups. For centuries, tiny Guiana Island has been a refuge for creatures such as the European fallow deer, Antigua's national animal.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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