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Europe's crowning 'Shard' launch faces piercing debate

LONDON -- Europe's tallest skyscraper, the Shard, was inaugurated in London on Thursday in a dazzling sound and light show befitting its status as the capital's brashest and most controversial building.

Thousands of Londoners gathered at vantage points around the city and lined the River Thames to take in the show, but the structure has been the source of heated debate during its gradual rise above capital's skyline.

Twelve lasers and 30 searchlights lit up the night sky from the dramatic glass and steel structure — which stands 310 meters (1,017 feet) tall — connecting it to other London landmarks as the London Philharmonic Orchestra provided the soundtrack.

The building was earlier officially launched by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, whose country funded the building, and Queen Elizabeth II's son Prince Andrew.

Prince Andrew said he hoped the building would give the local area “a huge new boost” during the formal ceremony.

London mayor Boris Johnson sang the Shard's praises, calling it “a quite astonishing piece of architecture.”

“Of course it's not like any piece of architecture in the city at the moment, but that's the whole point about London,” Johnson told BBC radio.

But in a nod to Londoners' split opinions on the building, he added: “I think it is important that we do not pepper-pot the city with skyscrapers everywhere. There's got to be control.”

The Shard's inauguration marks the completion of the exterior of the building, located on the south bank of the River Thames at London Bridge, while work on the inside is expected to continue into 2013.

The skyscraper, the name of which was coined by its Italian architect Renzo Piano, is still significantly shorter than Dubai's 828-meter Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

It takes over from Capital City Moscow Tower as the highest in Europe.

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Lasers light up the night sky from the Shard building during its inauguration in central London, Thursday, July 5. Europe's tallest skyscraper was inaugurated in a dazzling sound ...

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