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The Associated Press April 10, 2010, 4:27PM ET

Bolivia to buy presidential plane from French firm

Bolivia will buy a $39 million jet from France's Dassault Falcon Jet Corp. to replace its aging presidential plane, an official said Saturday as the world was transfixed by news of the crash that killed Poland's leader.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia told reporters the Dassault Falcon 900EX Easy jet is "urgently" needed to guarantee President Evo Morales' safety.

The plane now used by Morales is more than 35 years old and has made at least three emergency landings -- including one in December with the president on board, due to a hydraulics failure. No one was harmed.

Last year, Bolivian officials negotiated the purchase of a new jet from Russian airplane maker Antonov for $30 million. The acquisition was never finalized, however.

The Dassault plane was originally intended for sale to a company but that deal fell through, Garcia said.

He added that the purchase was authorized April 2 -- more than a week before Saturday's crash in Russia that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife and some of the country's highest military and civilian leaders.

According to Dassault's Web site, the Falcon 900EX has a range of 4,500 nautical miles and is capable of landing at small airports at high altitudes.

Bolivia's El Alto International Airport, which serves the capital of La Paz, is about 13,150 feet (4,008 meters) above sea level.

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