By Bahattin Gonultas and Muhammed Ali Gurtas
A third bridge spanning Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway opened Friday with a ceremony attended by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
“We are connecting continents,” Erdogan said. “We are celebrating together and we are very proud of it. The nation deserves this. With God’s permission, this nation will get what it deserves.This is great day and joyful day.”
The Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge was described as a new necklace for the city by Yildirim.
“It will not only serve to Istanbul but also serve to every journey in the historic Silk Road, starting from the Far East, ending in Europe and bringing civilizations together by connecting people,” he told a crowd of dignitaries.
The bridge, which cost nearly $3 billion to construct, is the latest in a raft of infrastructure “mega-projects” unveiled by the government.
The 1.4 kilometer (0.9 mile) bridge will carry eight lanes of traffic and two rail lines between Europe and Asia at the entrance of the Bosphorus to the Black Sea.
Named after Selim I, the 16th century sultan known for his expansion of the Ottoman empire, the bridge accompanies the July 15 Matryrs’ Bridge -- previously the Bosphorus Bridge -- and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge in crossing the Bosphorus.
It is the world’s longest suspension rail bridge and will lead to $1.75 billion-a-year in savings through reduced travel times and energy costs.
All trucks and heavy-duty vehicles will be directed to the bridge to ease traffic on the other bridges, as well as cut congestion and pollution in Istanbul.
It forms part of the Northern Marmara Motorway Project, the next two phases of which will see 257 km (160 miles) of roads completed by the end of 2018.
Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan said the government would continue to strengthen Turkey’s infrastructure. “Without using any public sources, we will maintain such mega-projects through the build-operate-transfer finance model,” he said.
An estimated 135,000 vehicles are expected to use the bridge daily, with those travelling from Europe to Asia paying a toll, set at 9.90 Turkish liras (around $3) for cars, from Sept. 1.
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Mustafa Akinci, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bosnian Joint President Bakir Izetbegovic and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov were among the guests attending the opening ceremony.
Erdogan, who along with Yildirim was among the first to cross the bridge, said it would “pioneer” further projects, such as a canal linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and another Europe-Asia bridge at the Dardanelles.
The president used the occasion to attack Daesh, which killed 54 people in a suicide bombing at a wedding in the southern city of Gaziantep on Aug. 20.
“Do not regard what is written on their so-called flag,” he said, referring to the terror group’s white-on-black standard that carries the names of Allah and the Prophet Muhammed.
“Those terrorists cannot be Muslim. They are manipulating children by using them as suicide bombers. When asked, they claim that they are acting in the name of Islam. However, they have nothing to do with Islam. There is absolutely no room for such cruelty in our religion, because our religion is a religion of peace.” The president said he would visit Gaziantep on Sunday.
Referring to the Battle of Malazgirt on Aug. 26, 1071, which saw the Seljuk Turks defeat a Byzantine army and open the way for Turkish domination in Anatolia, Erdogan added: “We have been here for a thousand years. The most significant qualification of our ancient history is that we would overcome every challenge by acting in unity as a nation.”
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