Nicaragua approving massive canal project for little-known Chinese company

A $40 billion plan to plow a massive rival to the Panama Canal across the middle of Nicaragua is headed for approval by the country's leftist-controlled National Assembly. It caps a lightning-fast approval process that has provoked deep skepticism among shipping experts and intense concern among environmentalists.

The assembly dominated by President Daniel Ortega's Sandinista Front is expected to vote Thursday to grant a 50-year concession for the canal to a Hong Kong-based company whose only previous experience appears to be in telecommunications.

Ortega's backers say the Chinese project will transform one of the region's poorest countries by turning a centuries-old dream of a Nicaraguan trans-ocean canal into reality, bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the country.