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Construction of Kanal İstanbul to start on June 26, despite opposition

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Turkey will begin construction on the controversial Kanal İstanbul, a proposed artificial sea-level waterway in İstanbul, on June 26, despite widespread public opposition based on environmental and financial concerns, local media reported on Wednesday.

The groundbreaking ceremony for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “crazy project,” which is planned to bisect the European side of İstanbul to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara and Mediterranean seas, will take place on June 26.

Erdoğan and his far-right ally Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are expected to attend the event launching the canal project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2023, Turkish media reports said.

While 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, critics of the project argue it is aimed at generating money for pro-AKP circles and will damage nature and could even worsen the earthquake risk in the city of more than 15 million people.

İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who has been an outspoken critic of the controversial project, was investigated in late 2020 for erecting billboards across İstanbul that said, “Either Kanal or İstanbul? Who needs Kanal İstanbul?” as part of a municipal campaign against the proposed canal.

Back in February the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) released a video game that warns against construction of the canal by explaining the damage it could cause.

“Farmlands destroyed,” “Unemployment surges,” “Water resources lost” and “Balance of nature disturbed” are some of the warnings included in the video game, in which “Game over” appears after the construction of the canal is completed, despite the warnings.

The plans to construct the canal have also opened up a debate about Turkey’s commitment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, which is aimed at demilitarizing the Black Sea by setting strict commercial and naval rules on passage through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits leading to the Mediterranean.

Reuters reported in late April, citing four senior bankers, that some of Turkey’s biggest banks are reluctant to finance Erdoğan’s plan due to environmental concerns and the investment risks surrounding the massive construction project.

Six Turkish banks, including Garanti Bank, İş Bank and Yapı Kredi, have signed the UN’s Principles for Responsible Banking framework, which calls on signatories to avoid harming people and the planet and implement steps to achieve that goal.

Erdoğan formerly underlined that his AKP government would build Kanal İstanbul “despite” the critics.

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