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Turkey vows to build new airport despite court order

AFP , Tuesday 11 Feb 2014
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Turkey vowed Tuesday to press ahead with the construction of what could become one of the world's busiest airports despite a court order halting work over environmental concerns.

A court last month suspended work on Istanbul's third airport after local residents and environmental groups filed a lawsuit, arguing that the operations caused serious damage to the environment, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.

But Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan said the suspension was temporary and that it would not interfere with construction of the airport, which Turkey estimates will handle 150 million passengers annually when complete.

"This was a decision only for a temporary suspension pending the environmental impact approval report. In no way will it affect the construction of the airport," he told reporters.

Environment and Urban Development Minister Idris Gulluce said his ministry would appeal the decision, which he believed was a "factual mistake".

"We will appeal... Our airport will be built without any interruption or break," he said.

"No one should come to the conclusion that the airport will be prevented and Turkey's world-famous project will be halted."

Turkey's General Directorate of State Airports Authority (DHMI) also said construction would continue.

"The said court decision does not halt operations carried out in accordance with the New Istanbul Airport contract signed in May 2013," it said. "Processes regarding the project continue as planned."

The court requested an expert report on construction plans and is expected to make a final decision on the fate of the project within one year.

Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa-Kalyon Consortium, a Turkish joint venture, won a tender for the project last May after bidding 22 billion euros ($30 million) for a 25-year lease to build and operate the planned airport.

The first stage of the construction would be completed in four years.

The new airport has the potential to make Istanbul a mega aviation hub, as the city's current Ataturk airport, which has come close to reaching its limits, reported a record 16.7 percent jump in passenger numbers in 2012, surpassing its European rivals, according to the International Air Transport Authority (IATA).

The new Istanbul airport aims to rival Dubai's Al Maktoum International airport, which opened in October last year and is expected to eventually accommodate 160 million passengers a year.

The announcement of the plans to build a third airport in the north of Turkey's biggest city was greeted with anger by many groups.

It came amid mass protests last year which started as an environmental campaign to save an Istanbul park from redevelopment and evolved into a nationwide anti-government movement.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government is frequently criticised for its ambitious construction plans for the bustling city of 16 million people -- which also include a third bridge across the Bosphorus and a canal parallel to the international waterway to ease traffic congestion.

The building industry has boomed under Erdogan but a controversial corruption probe is currently investigating allegations of high-level bribery linked to some construction projects.

The probe has implicated members of Erdogan's inner circle, including high-profile businessmen and the sons of ministers, and has posed a major challenge to the premier's 11-year-rule.

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