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Istanbul’s new airport: a looming black hole

Istanbul’s giant new airport, scheduled to partially open in October ahead of key elections next year, has become a headache that threatens to carve a black hole in Turkey’s public finances.
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan served as the mayor of Istanbul before ascending to the helm of the country as prime minister in 2003. During a television debate in 1994, he voiced strong opposition to a proposed third bridge over the Bosporus to the lush, forested area north of Istanbul. According to the then-mayor, such construction would be “a serious mistake” because it would serve the interests of rent-seekers while “destroying [Istanbul’s] remaining lungs” in the area.

The environmental plans for Istanbul — considered the city’s constitution and updated most recently in 2009 — put the northern areas off limits to development and all kinds of public and private investment to protect the city’s remaining forests and water basins. Yet Erdogan — who put his signature on the plans as a mayor — removed the red line in 2013 as he spearheaded projects to build a third bridge over the Bosporus, complete with belt highways and a third airport for the city, flouting the huge environmental damage.

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