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Almaty Subway Opens, 23 Years Later

The Abai station in the new Almaty subway

The Abai station in the new Almaty subway

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- The first subway line in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, has begun operation 23 years after construction started on it, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

President Nursultan Nazarbaev attended the opening ceremony on December 1 instead of traveling 150 kilometers south to Kyrgyzstan for the inauguration of President-elect Almazbek Atambaev.

Erkin Baikenov, an Almaty Metroqurylys subway construction official, told RFE/RL that the new subway can withstand earthquakes ranging from 7 to 8 points on the Richter scale.

He said officials from Russia, Serbia, and South Korea attended the gala subway opening.

Construction worker Syrymbet Akhmetzhanov, who has been involved in the project since it began in September 1988, told RFE/RL that the first line is 8.6 kilometers long and has seven stations.

Akhmetzhanov said that each year two additional stations will be opened.

Up to 26,000 passengers are expected to initially use the subway line daily. Almaty has a population of about 1.5 million.

Construction of the subway was suspended in the early 1990s due to the economic collapse that affected all former Soviet republics after the break up of the U.S.S.R.

But construction resumed several years ago with a view to finishing the first line by December 16 of this year, the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence.

Read and watch more in Kazakh here