Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project
A woman is fishing next to the bosphorus river on November 15, 2017 at Karakoy district in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project
  • Scientific findings show the project could prompt quakes, undermine wastewater system, change salinity

ISTANBUL: The municipality of Istanbul is to pull out of a controversial $15 billion project to build a shipping canal on the edge of the city. The announcement, made in Arabic by a spokesman for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, came a day after Turkish presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, released a promotional video of the Canal Instanbul project in Chinese.
Companies from China are expected to shoulder most of the costs of building the 45 km waterway, which will link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara with the aim of easing shipping congestion in the adjacent Bosphorus.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “dream” megaproject has run into huge opposition from Istanbul citizens over environmental and economic concerns.
The Istanbul municipality’s announcement to withdraw from the scheme, is thought to have been delivered in Arabic in an attempt to dissuade Arab investors from buying land around the “second Bosphorus.”
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025 and the tendering process for its construction is due to get underway soon after the project was given the green light from the Ministry for Environment and Urban Development.
But critics claim that as well as the cost to the economy, scientific findings have shown the canal could prompt new earthquakes, undermine the city’s wastewater system, change salinity and lead to more cuts in water supplies.
“It’s either the canal or Istanbul. We can’t have both,” Imamoglu said recently, adding that the project was a “betrayal” of the city.

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Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025.

But Erdogan said: “Whether they like it or not, Canal Istanbul is being built.”
In a televised interview on Sunday, the Turkish leader said warships would be able to use the canal, possibly violating the 1936 Montreux Convention, an international agreement aimed at guaranteeing stability and security in the Black Sea region and ensuring the free passage of ships through the Bosphorus, except in times of war.
In 2015, when relations between Turkey and Russia were at an all-time low over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Syrian rebels, a Russian naval ship passed through the Bosphorus with a sailor standing on deck armed with a ground-to-air missile.
Erdogan claims that the Montreux Convention was only “mandatory” for the Turkish straits, and the Canal Istanbul project remained outside of its scope.
With foreign currency reserves in Turkey diminishing and the Turkish lira falling against the dollar and euro, investment in the real estate sector has become the principal way to bring in foreign cash and strengthen the economic parameters ahead of any snap elections.
Economist Mustafa Sonmez told Arab News: “The municipality will not assume any cost of the construction for the Canal Istanbul project because it canceled all the protocols that were signed before, during the rule of the AKP mayorship. This is a project that is being discussed just for rent-seeking and changing the domestic agenda of the country.”
He said the project model was not suitable to be built with a public-private partnership and within the scope of the build-operate-transfer model.
“The contractor cannot be pleased with the passage turnover of the ships, and it would be an unnecessary and risky choice to use the canal as long as the Bosphorus is free of charge.”
He added that if the project costs were met by state resources, it was unclear how it would be financed in the light of economic indicators for the country. Turkey’s central government budget balance recorded a deficit of 92.94 billion Turkish lira ($15.58 billion) in the first 11 months of 2019. The Canal Istanbul project is estimated at costing between $15 billion and $20 billion.


Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst
Updated 11 min 11 sec ago

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

CAIRO: An explosion sound heard at a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut was reportedly caused by a tyre bursting, local news agency NNA reported Saturday.  
People initially thought they heard an explosion. 
But the bang was in fact a tyre on a bulldozer bursting inside a waste plant, the NNA reported.


Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
Updated 06 March 2021

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
  • Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas
  • Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will reopen its cinemas at a reduced 30 percent capacity while adhering to coronavirus precautionary measures, state news agency WAM reported.
Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas.
Meanwhile, Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
“The Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection (CCCP) Sector in Dubai Economy directed coffee shops to stop serving drinks in baby bottles,” DED said.
There has been a spike in new daily cases since the beginning of the year, largely due to the high number of tourists traveling to the country over the holiday period.

The UAE has recorded 2,959 new coronavirus infections, 1,901 recoveries and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 408,236 with 391,205 recoveries and 1,310 deaths.


Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source
Updated 6 min 39 sec ago

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

DUBAI: Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, government military sources said Saturday.
The Shiite rebels launched an offensive last month to seize Marib, the last stronghold in northern Yemen of pro-government forces who are backed by a Arab-led military coalition.
The clashes in the oil-rich province left 32 dead among government forces and loyalist tribes, while 58 Houthi rebels were killed in coalition air strikes, the sources told AFP.
They said heavy clashes broke out on six fronts as government forces were able to counter attacks by the Houthis who managed to advance only on the Kassara front northwest of Marib city.
The fighting also left dozens of people wounded, the sources added.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
It would also be a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which has been the target of increasingly frequent Houthi missile attacks in recent weeks.
Shrapnel from Houthi drones intercepted by the Saudis on Friday wounded two civilians, including a 10-year-old, in the southwest of the kingdom, the official SPA news agency reported.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191 million in aid at a donors' conference.
"Aid alone will not end the conflict. We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war... so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war," he said.
The United Nations had sought to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7 billion was offered.


Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
  • The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
  • Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”

NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.


Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 06 March 2021

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.