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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Forget Acapulco and Cancun. Mexico's latest beach attraction is a splatter of sand near a noisy road junction in the capital that has raised eyebrows about the spending priorities of the city's new mayor.
Sandwiched between a traffic-choked ring road and a busy main avenue, the inner-city beach is missing some of the chic that made an instant fashion hit of its inspiration, the Paris Plage beach on the banks of the Seine that opened in the summer of 2001.
Even so, Mexico City's first beach was already buzzing by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the official launch day, with paddling pools and volleyball to entertain the throngs.
This week is the Easter holiday in Mexico, when cities empty as middle-class residents flee to distant beaches. The capital's poor, normally forgotten in the exodus, this year get to recreate the experience within city limits.
Critics of the project -- built on sports fields surrounded by grimy high rise housing projects -- say the cash-strapped metropolis, plagued by water shortages and crime, has more urgent uses for the $200,000 spent to ship in palm trees and hundreds of tons of sand.
But Mayor Marcelo Ebrard brushed off such criticism.
"There are those upset by the artificial beaches. Perhaps they can get to other beaches, but this was built for the majority, and it's free," he said.
Municipal artificial beaches attracted notice when fashionable Parisians tanned themselves on the banks of the river Seine, sparking a decree to ban nude sunbathing and the wearing of G-strings.
Nakedness is not likely to be a problem in predominantly Catholic Mexico City.
The beaches will stay in place indefinitely and if popular the city government promised to build more.