Nicaraguan officials say construction of a US $50bn canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans will start on 22 December.

"We are ready to begin," said Zhu Xiaoya, from the Hong Kong-based company HKND which is to build it.

The 172 mile-waterway will be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal.
Opponents are concerned about the impact it may have on Lake Nicaragua and on poor communities in the area.

The route announced in July would pass through the lake, an important source of fresh water. Construction will begin with a port on the Pacific.

Environmentalists have warned of the risks of damming rivers and moving massive amounts of soil. Communities along the route have staged protest marches.

The plan is to build the canal within five years and have it operational by 2020.

The project is expected to include two ports, an airport, a resort and an economic zone for electricity and other companies.

A 2,000-ft bridge would span the width of the canal.

The Reporter