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After 13 years, Iran's first metro completed

TEHRAN, Iran -- President Mohammad Khatami on Monday inaugurated Tehran's first subway, describing it as an "inevitable necessity" for the traffic-clogged metropolis of 11 million people.

Officials said they hoped the subway would help ease Tehran's excessive pollution and gridlocks caused mainly by an estimated 2 million cars, most of them more than 20 years old.The 6-mile line, the first in the Persian Gulf, was built over a period of 13 years, according to metro officials. It cost about $383 million. The only other cities in the region that have subways are Cairo, Egypt and Ankara, Turkey.

Asqar Ibrahimi, the former head of Tehran Metro project, said 40 workers were killed in work-related accidents during the course of the subway construction.

The project was also beset by problems and delays. Several years ago, a main street in downtown Tehran opened to swallow cars and people when a metro tunnel being built underneath caved in.

The line inaugurated Monday connects central Tehran with the western suburb of Sadeqieh and merges with a regular railway service to the town of Karaj, 18 miles west of Tehran. The line has the capacity to carry 40,000 people per hour. An extension and three more lines are planned, covering 60 miles, but no time frame has been set.

"Today, the metro has become an inevitable necessity for a very, very difficult life in a city like Tehran. It pains me to see people suffering like this," Khatami said in a speech after taking an inaugural ride from Sadeqieh Square station to Imam Khomeini Square.

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan also attended the inauguration. China provided the tracks, equipment and technical help.

The line will operate initially for three hours and then for five hours beginning March 21.