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FILE - In this June 14, 2013 file photo, President Daniel Ortega, left, and Chinese businessman Wang Jing hold up a concession agreement for the construction of a multibillion-dollar canal at the Casa de los Pueblos in Managua. Nicaragua?s government and China?s HKND Group on Monday July 7, 2014, unveiled the route of a proposed inter-ocean canal to compete with the Panama Canal that Sandinista officials hope with lift the Central American country out of poverty. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua's government and Hong Kong-based HKND Group on Monday unveiled the route of a proposed $40 billion inter-ocean canal to compete with the Panama Canal that Sandinista officials hope will lift the Central American country out of poverty.

While the canal has the support of President Daniel Ortega and most Nicaraguans, many legal experts charge that the deal violates the country's national sovereignty. Environmental experts warn that construction could cause profound ecological damage by damming rivers, splitting ecosystems and moving untold tons of earth. Others fear the project is not economically feasible.

Representatives of HKND, which is owned by Chinese businessman Wang Jing, said Monday that the canal will stretch 173 miles (278 kilometers), 65 miles (105 kilometers) of which are across Lake Nicaragua.

Junsong Dong, chief of engineers for HKND, said that after studying six possible routes for the mega-project they decided on one that starts on the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of river Brito, heads south through the city of Rivas and crosses Lake Nicaragua. From Lake Nicaragua, it goes by the Tule and Punta Gordas rivers until it reaches the southern Caribbean by Bluefields Bay.

Opposition liberal deputy Eliseo Nunez called the announcement "a propaganda game, a media show to continue generating false hopes of future prosperity among Nicaraguans."

But HKND officials said the canal project will employ about 50,000 people directly and indirectly benefit another 200,000.

"This project is going to be the biggest built in the history of humanity. It will be an enormous help to the Nicaraguan people and for the world in general, because world trade will require it, we are sure of this," Wang told students at the Managua University of Engineering.

Junsong Dong said the canal project consists of six sub-projects, including the channel itself, construction of two deep-water ports, a free-trade area, tourism projects in San Lorenzo and an airport in the city of Rivas.

Construction is expected to begin in December 2014 and take five years