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Three Gorges Dam Reaches Milestone, Yangtze River Blocked - 2002-11-06

Chinese engineers blocked the mighty Yangtze River in southwestern China Wednesday, marking an important milestone in construction of the controversial Three Gorges Dam. Big trucks loaded with boulders dumped their cargoes into a canal built to divert the river away from the Three Gorges Dam during the early part of construction.

At an elaborate ceremony carried on national television, Vice Premier Wu Bangguo gave the order that closed the canal and started filling the area behind the huge dam with water.

The ceremony featured China's number two leader, Li Peng and was timed to be a symbol of national pride ahead of a key Communist Party meeting later this week in Beijing. The Party's 16th Congress is expected to see a generation of leaders retire and Wednesday's ceremony was a celebration of one of their accomplishments. The project is controversial because of rampant corruption, its environmental impact and the forced relocation of more than one million people displaced by an artificial lake 600 kilometers long.

The $27 billion project is supposed to control flooding on the Yangtze and generate electricity. China has been building the dam since 1993. When complete in 2009, the Three Gorges Dam will be the world's largest hydroelectric project.