Turkey moves ahead with canal project that will make western Istanbul an 'island'
Despite a government freeze on spending, Ankara is pressing ahead with the $16 billion plan to dig a 45km shipping canal running parallel to the Bosphorus.
Work is due to start this year on Kanal Istanbul, Environment and Urban Minister Murat Kurum said.
"Kanal Istanbul is the most important project in our ministry's 100-day action plan," he was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu news agency.
The ministry must first buy up land along the canal route, and develop plans with contractors. Once completed, it will link the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara north and south of Istanbul, with the aim of easing traffic on the Bosphorus strait, a major global shipping lane.
Environmentalists have protested the need for the waterway, saying its construction will destroy water basins which supply the city with freshwater and alter oxygen levels in the seas.
The canal project is among major development schemes championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However the leader faced criticism this weekend over the construction of Istanbul's third airport, where builders protested work-related deaths and poor working conditions. Turkish authorities responded to demonstrations by arresting 500 workers, the country's revolutionary unions confederation (Disk) said.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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