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Panama Marks Canal Anniversary

August 15, 1999

PANAMA CITY (AP) _ Panama marked the 85th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal on Sunday _ the last commemoration before Panama takes control of the waterway.

The anniversary celebration ``commemorates the certain triumph of Panamanian sovereignty,″ said Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez, who was among the foreign leaders joining Panamanian President Ernesto Perez Balladares at the ceremony.

Under a 1977 agreement, the United States will cede the canal to Panama on Dec. 31 and end its military presence in the Central American country.

Canal administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta of Panama said the transition is moving ``successfully, firmly and rapidly″ toward its conclusion.

Panama has already taken control of most canal functions. Ninety percent of the almost 10,000 canal employees are Panamanians.

About 825,000 boats have passed through the canal since it opened in 1914. About 34 freight ships pass through it daily, mostly from the United States, China, Japan and Chile. It produces $500 million a year in revenue.

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