Turkey’s Erdogan, main rival stage final election rallies

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during an election rally of his ruling AKP, in Istanbul, on Saturday, June 23. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Turkey’s Erdogan, main rival stage final election rallies

  • The winner of Sunday’s presidential contest will acquire sweeping new executive powers
  • Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, are facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from a revitalized opposition

President Tayyip Erdogan and his main challenger, Muharrem Ince, made a final push for support at rival rallies in Istanbul on Saturday, a day before presidential and parliamentary elections widely viewed as the most crucial in Turkey for decades.

The winner of Sunday’s presidential contest will acquire sweeping new executive powers under a constitutional overhaul backed by Erdogan and endorsed last year by a narrow majority of Turks in a referendum.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, praised the executive presidency that comes into force after the election.

“God willing, Turkey will start flying with this system... With this system, we will achieve what others cannot imagine,” he told tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, the first of five planned for Saturday.

Erdogan, 64, also promised to deliver more of the big infrastructure projects that have characterized his time in power and helped make him the most popular — if also the most divisive — leader of modern Turkish history.

But with Turkey’s economic woes mounting, partly due to the lira currency’s sharp decline, Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, are facing an unexpectedly strong challenge from a revitalized opposition.

Opposition appeal

Ince, a former teacher and the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), has proved highly effective on the campaign trail, drawing huge crowds, especially in the big cities.

On Saturday police said at least one million people had turned out in Istanbul’s Maltepe district to hear Ince promise to reverse — if he wins the presidency — what he sees as Turkey’s turn toward more authoritarian rule under Erdogan.

Ince also repeated his accusation — made by other opposition politicians too — of political bias by Turkey’s state media, which has given Erdogan and the AK Party heavy coverage while often neglecting to broadcast opposition rallies.

“There are 5 million people in Maltepe right now but none of the TV channels can show it,” he said. That figure could not be independently verified, though images circulating on social media showed vast crowds of people assembled to hear Ince speak. “Let this immorality be an example to the world,” said Ince, who said he had held 107 rallies around Turkey in the 51 days since his candidacy was announced.

Braving a summer thunderstorm, Ince’s supporters, in festive mood, sang anthems and waved red and white Turkish flags.

On the other side of the Bosphorus, the waterway bisecting Istanbul and separating Europe from Asia, Erdogan dismissed fears of any ballot-rigging on Sunday, saying the polls would be fair and safe.

“We have taken all security precautions,” said Erdogan.

Opposition parties and non-governmental organizations say they plan to deploy more than half a million monitors and volunteers at ballot boxes across Turkey on Sunday to prevent fraud.


Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

Updated 18 September 2018
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Libya rivals clash south of capital, causing blackouts

  • Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport
  • Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the country

TRIPOLI: New clashes flared between rival militias south of Libya’s capital Tripoli on Tuesday, causing widespread power outages, the national electricity firm said.
The fighting underscored the fragility of a United Nations-backed cease-fire reached earlier this month after days of deadly violence between armed groups in the capital, beset by turmoil since the fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Tuesday morning’s clashes centered on the main road to Tripoli’s long-closed international airport, according to witnesses including an AFP journalist.
Libya’s National Electricity Company said its network had been damaged, causing a total blackout across the North African nation’s south and west.
Fighting which broke out late last month killed at least 63 people and wounded 159 others — mostly civilians — before the cease-fire came into effect on September 4.
Last week, the capital’s only working airport came under rocket fire just days after reopening following the truce.
Mitiga International Airport, located in a former military base that includes a prison, is currently controlled by the Special Deterrence Forces, a Salafist militia which serves as Tripoli’s police force and has been involved in clashes around the capital.
Interior Minister Abdessalam Ashour said Monday that a “regular force” would be tasked with securing the airport.
UN envoy Ghassan Salame later reported 14 cease-fire violations around Tripoli, but sought to play them down, saying the deal had been “generally respected.”
Tripoli’s main airport has been out of action since it was severely damaged by similar clashes in 2014.
Since Qaddafi’s fall in 2011, oil-rich Libya has been rocked by violence between dozens of armed groups vying for control of its cities and vast oil resources.
A UN-brokered agreement signed in Morocco in December 2015 established the Government of National Accord (GNA) in a bid to ease the chaos.
But deep divisions remain between the GNA and rivals including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in eastern Libya and backs a competing authority.
The GNA last week announced a series of measures to secure the capital and curb the influence of militias over state institutions and banks.