Local elections in Turkey seen as test for Erdogan

Local elections in Turkey seen as test for Erdogan

Istanbul and Ankara are central to the tight race as the opposition tries to wrestle them from the AKP.

With 74 percent of the votes counted In Istanbul, the country's largest city and economic centre, Binali Yildirim, the candidate of Erdogan's People's Alliance and a former prime minister, was in the lead with 50.5 percent of the votes.

Voting started at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in eastern Turkey and an hour later in the rest of the country.

On the defensive in recent weeks as the economy slipped into recession and the lira lurched from one crisis to another, Erdogan has lashed out at enemies at home and overseas, warning bankers of a "heavy price" to pay for feeding the currency chaos.

"Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey", said Erdogan, whose political career began when he became the city's mayor in 1994.

Before the elections, Erdogan campaigned tirelessly for AKP's candidates, framing the municipal elections taking place across Turkey as matters of "national survival".

But for voter Husnu Acar, 53, casting his ballot at a school in Beylikduzu on the outskirts of Istanbul, "they (AKP) are the ones with a survival problem".

Cavusoglu said Ankara was pleased with enhanced bilateral relations with Moscow, adding: "Our relations are improving in every area ranging from economy to culture". Thousands of its officials have been jailed in a crackdown, including elected mayors and parliamentary deputies. In a sign of what analysts suggest are fears of losing Istanbul, Erdogan in the last few days held more than a dozen rallies across the city in a bid to consolidate his party's support.

Ahead of the vote, the CHP and Iyi (Good) Party formed an electoral alliance to rival that of the AKP and its nationalist MHP partners.

Fights related to local elections in several provinces also produced dozens of injuries, Turkey's official Anadolu news agency reported.

Last month, US Vice President Mike Pence personally appealed to Erdogan in a phone call to renege on a missile deal with Russian Federation in favour of an American one, Middle East Eye reported exclusively.

His opponents, however, have denied the accusations and said Erdogan is responsible for leading Turkey to its current state.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the move, saying it put the Middle East on the brink of a new crisis.

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has fielded candidates in the Kurdish provinces where it traditionally gets the most votes in a bid to reclaim over 100 municipalities the Ankara government seized since 2016.

It also used Turkish flags in their campaigns, rather than party banners, in an apparent bid to attract voters from different backgrounds. With inflation close to 20 percent and unemployment rising, some voters appeared ready to punish the president.

Erdogan has often blamed foreign powers and "speculators" for the currency fluctuations and other economic woes faced by Turkey - a message he repeated this week.

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