Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised to press ahead with the controversial Kanal İstanbul, a proposed artificial waterway in İstanbul, despite opposition from İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who has criticized it on financial and environmental grounds, local media reported on Friday.
“We have taken all the necessary steps with the ministries of environment and urbanization, and transportation. Neither the main opposition [Republican People’s Party (CHP)] nor the İstanbul Municipality can understand it,” the president told reporters following Friday prayers, referring to the CHP’s İmamoğlu.
“This project goes back to when I was the mayor [of İstanbul, between 1994 and 1998]. We want to serve this country. My citizens in İstanbul are well aware of the threats the Bosporus Strait faces,” Erdoğan added.
Kanal İstanbul, which 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.
Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government claim the channel is necessary for the safety of İstanbul’s Bosporus Strait, which sees busy marine traffic; however, opponents of the project say it is aimed at generating money for pro-AKP circles.
Among the vocal opponents of the project is İmamoğlu, who is currently facing an investigation by the Interior Ministry due to his opposition to the construction of Kanal İstanbul.
“Let me remind people [who see it as beneficial to remain obstinate on matters relating to İstanbul] about June 23,” the mayor said on Thursday, referring to his decisive victory in a re-run election in 2019, which had to be held due to AKP’s objection to İmamoğlu’s initial victory on March 31.
İmamoğlu ended the 25-year rule of Erdoğan’s AKP government and its predecessors in İstanbul, the country’s largest city and commercial hub.
The mayor’s remarks came after Erdoğan said during an AKP convention in İstanbul on Feb. 24 that the government would build Kanal İstanbul “despite” the critics.
“We will do it just to spite them, and they will see how İstanbul flourishes and is transformed into another city with Kanal İstanbul. We will make them get used to it,” the president said.
Critics say the project would destroy nature and could even worsen the earthquake risk in the city of more than 15 million people.