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Nicaragua canal approved by Nicaragua's president, Chinese businessman

A Hong Kong-based development company has signed an agreement with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to build a channel across Nicaragua, similar to the Panama Canal. 

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Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega, (l.), and Chinese businessman Wang Jing shake hands before signing a concession agreement for the construction of a multibillion-dollar canal at the Casa de los Pueblos in Managua, Nicaragua, Friday.

Esteban Felix/AP

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President Daniel Ortega and Chinese businessman Wang Jing have signed an agreement giving his company the right to build a shipping channel across Nicaragua that would compete with the Panama Canal.

The signing took place a day after Nicaragua's National Assembly voted to grant Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. a 50-year concession to study, then possibly build and run, the canal.

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Ortega's backers say the project would transform one of the region's poorest countries by bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the country and fueling an economic boom that would mimic the prosperity of nearby Panama and its U.S.-built canal.

Critics say the proposal, which was given fast-track approval, contains no specific route for the canal and virtually no details of its financing or economic viability.

Addressing opposition comments that the previously little-known Chinese businessman was illusionary, Ortega said at the signing: "Here we have our brother Wang Jing in flesh and blood, here is the ghost in flesh and blood."