Turkish minister uses Beirut blast to plug Istanbul Canal project

Turkish Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank on Wednesday referred to the devastating blast in Beirut to promote the Turkish government’s contentious Istanbul Canal megaproject.

The over 2700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate blamed for the explosion, which killed over 100 people on Tuesday, was transported to the Lebanese capital through the Bosphorus Strait six years ago, Varank said on Twitter.

“The Istanbul Canal, which our esteemed President places an emphasis on, is not a simple matter, but a strategic security issue,’’ the industry and technology minister added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) says the 50-kilometre-long Istanbul Canal, which would link the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara through Istanbul, will reduce traffic on the busy Bosporus strait by providing a preferable trading route for international shipping companies.

But critics, including environmentalists and experts, maintain the AKP is risking irreversible ecological damage in an attempt to reinvigorate the stuttering construction sector and provide cash for its allies and clients. 

Varank’s statements were met with criticism on Turkish twitter, with a number of users condemning the minister for linking the two issues and asking how damage would be avoided in the case of an explosion in the envisaged canal.

“All fine and well, but didn’t you say that plan to establish a city of one million around Istanbul Canal?’’ one Twitter user asked, referring to the government approval of residential areas around the waterway. “Do the lives of those one million people not matter?’’

“Will ships be passing through the Istanbul Canal through air travel? I am just curious Mr. minister?’’ another user said. 

Erdoğan announced plans for the project in 2011 before he was elected prime minister for a third term, but his government has failed to start the artificial waterway project amid growing opposition, including from the opposition mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu.