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DUBAI: Expo 2020 Dubai, the huge world fair which opened this week, said on Saturday three workers had died and 72 were seriously hurt during six years of construction, defending its accident rate as less than half that of building work in Britain.

Mega projects in the Gulf region such as the Expo, and neighbouring Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 soccer World Cup, have faced international scrutiny with rights groups criticising conditions for low-paid migrant workers.

Dubai, the region’s tourism, trade and business hub, is hoping to boost its economy by attracting 25 million visits to the world fair, which was delayed for a year by the pandemic.

The Expo statement was the first to detail work-related deaths and serious injuries — classified as needing three days or more off work — among 200,000 workers over 247 million work hours. It did specify how or where the three workers had died.

It said the accident frequency rate, a calculation used to measure incidents over a set amount of time worked, was 0.03, compared to 0.07 in the construction industry in Britain as recorded by the UK Health and Safety Executive.

“We are committed to the high standards we have set for ourselves and our contractors and remain firmly focused on working together to continually improve,” Expo 2020 said. Low-paid foreign workers are the backbone of the Gulf Arab economies, taking jobs in construction, services and transport. Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world fair to be held in the Middle East, was built from scratch on 4.3 sq km (1.7 sq mile) of desert and cost around $6.8 billion..

The European parliament last month urged member states not to take part in Expo, citing “inhumane practices” against foreign workers and “systematic persecution” of human rights defenders. The United Arab Emirates rejected the non-binding resolution as “factually incorrect”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking at a press conference at the Expo, said on Saturday France, which maintains a naval base in the Emirates, had not supported the resolution.

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