- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

ANKARA, Turkey

Turkey’s prime minister on Wednesday announced what he called a “crazy and magnificent” plan to build a new waterway to the Black Sea, promising that the tanker-clogged Bosporus through Istanbul soon would be used for sports and boat trips.

The waterway, to be named “Canal Istanbul,” would link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, which leads to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean beyond.

It would be about 30 miles long, some 82 feet deep and 500 feet wide, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said while campaigning ahead of elections June 12.

“We have today embarked on the greatest project of the century,” Mr. Erdogan said, adding that it would be a bigger undertaking than the Panama or Suez canals.

The new waterway would be on the European side of the Bosporus, but he would not disclose its exact location or the cost of the gargantuan project.

It would be completed by 2023, when Turkey will be celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Turkish republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey more than deserves to enter 2023 with such a crazy and magnificent project,” Mr. Erdogan said to a cheering audience in the city. “Istanbul will become a city with two seas passing through it.”

The prime minister, who is hoping to win a third term in office in June, had promised to announce what he called a “crazy project” for Istanbul since campaigning began earlier this month, keeping Turks guessing for weeks.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, brushed off the project. “This nation does not need crazy people but people who think,” he said, as reported by the state-run Anatolia news agency.

Town planners speculated the canal would be built west of the town of Silivri in Turkey’s Thrace region, since areas closer to Istanbul are heavily populated. The government already has announced plans to build a new airport near Silivri.

Mr. Erdogan said hazardous materials pose a threat to Istanbul, a city of more than 13 million.

The 19-mile long Bosporus strait that bisects Istanbul is, in conjunction with the Dardanelles, the sole passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and is heavily congested with tanker traffic to and from Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Ukraine and southern Russia.

It has been the scene of ship accidents in the past and environmentalists warn that a major disaster is waiting to happen.

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