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The Pakistani town that earned worldwide infamy as the place where Osama bin Laden hid for years is to build an amusement park in an attempt to restore its family-friendly image.
Construction will begin in the next two weeks on a sprawling site on the outskirts of Abbottabad, the town where the al-Qaida chief lived with his family in a fortified house until May 2011, when he was killed by a raiding party of US Navy Seals.
The Hazara Heritage Park and Amusement City will cost almost £20m (about $30 million) and boast restaurants, a mini golf course, a butterfly zoo, various rides and a lake for water sports.
Javed Abbasi, a provincial MP who has promoted the initiative, said he hoped a rollercoaster would also be included as part of the final stage of the five-year development.
“This will be one of the biggest amusement parks in Pakistan and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors from all over the country and the world,” he said.
Authorities have long been keen to move on from the embarrassment caused by the discovery that the world’s most-wanted man had been living undetected in the pleasant surroundings of Abbottabad, just 30 miles north of the capital.
The building where he had remained concealed for so long was torn down last February.
“The specific idea for this park is to show that this is a safe area,” said Abbasi. “There is no militancy over here, no terrorism; the people are safe.”
Like many in Abbottabad, Abbasi believes the town has been unfairly tarnished by its association with a terrorist mastermind who lived undetected just a short distance from Pakistan’s elite military training school.
“It was unfortunate that Osama stayed here but I don’t think it was the fault of the city, where he had no support,” he said. “People are not fanatic, they do not support terrorists – you cannot blame a city if someone hides here.”
Abbasi said the other main objective was to provide more recreational activities in a region of great natural beauty that already attracts many sightseers, including visitors to the nearby hill station of Nathia Gali.
But Syed Aqil Shah, minister for sports and tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said there needed to be more activities for families and young people.
“We want to keep young people away from terrorism and extremism,” he said. “We think healthy activities are a way to engage them in positive things.”
The plans, announced just weeks before Pakistan’s national parliament and provincial assemblies are due to be re-elected, appeared to go down well with locals.
“The capture of Osama had tarnished the image of this beautiful and peaceful city,” said Hamuyoon Khan Jadoon, a 55-year-old resident. “But the construction of such a park will create a positive image of Abbottabad.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk