Erdogan Inaugurates Contentious $15 Billion Canal Project

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a ground-breaking ceremony for a bridge planned as part of a canal project near Istanbul that’s been criticized by environmentalists.

“The project is appropriate both legally and scientifically,” Erdogan said on Saturday. “Kanal Istanbul is maybe one of the most environment-friendly projects in the world.”

The plan, with an estimated price-tag of about $15 billion, has also drawn criticism from Turkey’s opposition for threatening to further harm the nation’s marine ecosystem.

Sazlidere Bridge is planned as one of six to span the canal. Transport Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said in May that the bridges would cost about $1.4 billion.

In an interview with Hurriyet newspaper published on Saturday, Karaismailoglu said construction of the canal would take six years and be covered by revenue within 12 years.

The 45-kilometer (28-mile) Kanal Istanbul, which will link the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, was dubbed by Erdogan as his “crazy project” when he first announced it a decade ago. The waterway is also projected to support a city with a population of about 500,000.

Critics say they’re concerned the venture will impact an international agreement regulating the traffic through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits that’s meant to ensure stability in the Black Sea region.

In a press conference last week, the Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, a major opponent of the canal project, said that Saturday’s event was planned to create an “illusion.”

“This is not a state project, this is an election project,” he said.

Earlier on June 13, Imamoglu forced workers to evacuate the building site at the Sazlidere Bridge that was under the mayor’s jurisdiction, calling it illegal. Additionally, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition party, has threatened to cut ties and not pay those who plan to get involved with the project if his CHP party eventually gains control of the government. “We will block them from investing in Turkey,” he said.

Erdogan responded on Saturday.

“They are threatening investors and banks and even countries interested in this project. They’ll take their money by force via international arbitration.”

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