İstanbul mayor faces investigation over objections to Kanal İstanbul

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Ekrem İmamoğlu

An investigation has been launched into Ekrem İmamoğlu, the mayor of İstanbul from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), due to his opposition to Kanal İstanbul, an artificial waterway the Justice and Development Party (AKP) plans to construct in İstanbul, an opposition party leader has announced.

Meral Akşener, leader of the İYİ Party, mentioned the launch of the investigation into İmamoğlu during a program on FOX TV on Monday morning. When the host asked Akşener whether she was sure about her claim, Akşener said İmamoğlu had sent her the investigation file.

She said the İstanbul mayor is accused of opposing a state project and engaging in separatism.

Kanal İstanbul, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan dubbed his “crazy project,” will bisect the European side of İstanbul to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas. It is scheduled to be completed by 2023; however, there is widespread public opposition to its construction due to environmental and financial concerns.

İmamoğlu, who defeated Erdoğan’s nominee as the opposition candidate in the mayoral race in İstanbul last year, has on many occasions expressed his opposition to the project, describing it as “treason against the city.”  

“An inspector has been sent to the municipality over the billboards [opposing Kanal İstanbul]. According to the accusation based on the inspector’s investigation, since Kanal İstanbul is a state project, opposing it is considered akin to opposing the state, and hence separatism,” Akşener said.

In the meantime, Murat Ongun, spokesperson for the İstanbul Municipality, confirmed Akşener’s remarks in a tweet on Monday morning. He said the investigation into İmamoğlu was launched based on billboards put up in İstanbul that said, “Either Kanal or İstanbul? Who needs Kanal İstanbul?”

Ongun said İmamoğlu is supposed to give a deposition as part of the investigation in a week.

The AKP government and Erdoğan claim the canal is necessary for the safety of İstanbul’s Bosporus Strait, which sees busy marine traffic; however, opponents of the project say the project is aimed at generating money for pro-AKP circles.

İmamoğlu announced in December 2019 that the municipality had withdrawn its support for the protocol governing the construction of Kanal İstanbul, which was signed by the former mayor of İstanbul, a member of the AKP.

In the meantime, the Interior Ministry released a statement later in the day confirming the commissioning of an inspector to investigate İmamoğlu but denied accusing him of separatism. The ministry’s statement said the investigation was initiated due to İmamoğlu using state funds for the billboards against the Kanal İstanbul project, which the ministry described as a “state project.”

However, İmamoğlu, who spoke to reporters at an event later on Monday, said he does not see Kanal İstanbul as a “state project.”

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