ISTANBUL - The much-awaited opening of a metrobus line connecting the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side was celebrated yesterday at an event that was as much a political rally as an opening ceremony. Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan excited the crowds and they in turn responded to his speech with excitement and energy

A new metrobus line, which runs from Avcılar on the European side to Söğütlüçeşme on the Asian side, received a much-hailed and well-attended launch in Kadıköy yesterday. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Kadir Topbaş were both in attendance at the opening ceremony, which also seemed to serve as a campaign stop as political passions were expressed from both the stage and the crowd.

Though the metrobus opening was the reason for Monday’s gathering, the currents in the air were more about national politics and less about city services. As on almost all occasions, the Prime Minister’s visit was hailed with slogans and posters. Signs reading, "Turkey is proud of you," are a regular sight at such openings lately. Party officials asked poster holders to not display one sign. It read, "The last Ottoman Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, welcome to Kadıköy."

One attendee, who would only give his first name of Berk, gave credence to the idea that many share the belief behind that poster’s message. "He is Abdulhamit! Abdulhamit! The best leader in the world," Berk told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review. "From now on, in the world, in Europe, we can hold our heads high."

The atmosphere was jovial and the crowd responsive. In true political style, the Prime Minister attacked the opposition to his party with the fighting words, "Where our limits are, not even their dreams can reach." When a scuffle broke out in the crowd and TV cameras turned away from him, Erdoğan asked, "Press, what have you found this time?" to the amusement of the crowd, who laughed along with the Prime Minister. Erdoğan then told the crowd to ignore the press, saying, "let’s just get on with our business." Though this was a rather tempered poke at the press, the Prime Minister’s supporters seemed to respond well to it.

Push and shove

The Daily News reporter assigned to cover the opening was roughly handled by Justice and Development Party, or AKP, supporters when she was spotted taking pictures of attendees romping through the landscaping and sliding in the mud. One attendee pushed the reporter several times, yelling, "You dirty press! You are taking pictures of the mud, aren’t you? Of course you would! You’re out to get him!" At this point, the man shoved the reporter, who was yelling for the police, into a wire fence. The police working the event did not respond. The man was finally calmed down by his female companion and resumed walking. When the reporter asked for his name, the man did not respond.

The metrobus system, which currently carries almost 550,000 people each day, has been built in stages. The new addition is the third stage, a process that began in 2007 with the Avcılar to Topkapı line. The second stage, which took 77 days to complete, connected Topkapı to Zincirlikuyu, greatly reducing traffic on the E-5 highway with the use of a metrobus-only lane. The first two stages cost $276 million, for a line that runs from end to end in 38 minutes.

The new line cost the city $90 million and was built over a 150-day period. It was opened to the public yesterday after Erdoğan, Topbaş and other VIPs took the inaugural ceremonial ride. Test runs of the new line were conducted over the weekend. The new line, which is 11.2 kilometers long, is expected to take 300 trips per day, carrying more than 300,000 people, and decrease travel time between the European and Asian sides to 24 minutes. With this addition, metrobus ridership will reach nearly 1 million passengers per day.

The metrobus stops starting from Avcılar are Saatçi Kuruçeşme, IETT Camp, Küçükçekmece, Cennet, Beşyol, Sefaköy, Yenibosna, Kuleli, Şirinevler, İncirli, Zeytinburnu, Merter, Cevizlibağ, Topkapı Park, Halıcıoğlu, Çağlayan, Mecidiyeköy and Zincirlikuyu. From Zincirlikuyu, the new line stops at Bosphorus Bridge, Burhaniye Neighborhood, Altunizade, Acıbadem, Uzunçayır, Hasanpaşa and Söğütlüçeşme. The entire journey takes 62 minutes. The ten newly purchased vehicles for the new line cost the city 1.2 million euros and are up to 40 percent more fuel-efficient than traditional city buses. With the opening of the Zincirlikuyu-Söğütlüçeşme line, Topbaş said, 80,000 fewer vehicles are expected to enter traffic, leading to a 242,000-liter reduction in the use of gas.