ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan has opened a vast and elaborate port on the shores of the Caspian Sea that the county hopes will improve its export prospects and establish the country as a regional hub connecting Europe and Asia.

The Wednesday opening of the $1.5-billion project in Turkmenbashi comes as the Central Asia country tries to diversify its economy, which overwhelmingly depends on natural gas exports.

Although it has no outlets to the world's oceans, the 1,000-kilometer long Caspian Sea is an important thoroughfare for trade and passengers.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said at the opening that the new port will be an important link in a modern maritime transport system with the most favorable conditions for access to the Black Sea area, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.