Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said on March 30 that the construction of Kanal Istanbul, a canal project which aims to connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul to the Marmara Sea to the south, will start in a “very short” period of time.
“By taking on an important role in the world maritime trade, Kanal Istanbul will complete Turkey's logistics power and infrastructure and will serve as an important international waterway. A very short time is left before the construction of Kanal Istanbul starts,” Karaismailoğlu said as he addressed a meeting of the Turkish Contractors Association (TMB).
On the same day, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu once again slammed the government's project, saying it threatens the city's future.
“We are continuing our struggle against those who initiated a process which will lead to great damage in Istanbul with the 'Concrete Kanal.'...It is our responsibility to stand against elements that threaten Istanbul's future under the name of 'megaproject' through wisdom, science and law,” İmamoğlu said as he addressed a municipality event.
Environment and Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said on March 27 that the ministry had approved of development plans for the controversial project, despite the widespread criticism over its cost and environmental impact.
"We have approved the Kanal Istanbul Project development plans and put them out for public consultation. We will rapidly take steps to enrich our country and sacred city with Kanal Istanbul," Kurum wrote on Twitter.
The government says it will ease shipping traffic on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the world's busiest maritime passages, and prevent accidents similar to that this week on the Suez Canal, where work is continuing to refloat a giant container ship blocking the channel.
But like other major infrastructure projects undertaken during President Rece Tayyip Erdoğan's 18-year rule, the canal has drawn criticism from those who say it will wreak environmental havoc and pollute freshwater resources around the city of 15 million people.
İmamoğlu, from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), is among the staunchest critics of the project. He has said spending resources on the canal while Turkey combats the coronavirus outbreak is "mind-boggling."