Middle East

Erdogan vows 'strong new Turkey' in final election rally

Turkish voters will directly elect their head of state for the first time in the country's modern history in the August 10 election, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the favorite to become president. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Saturday roused tens of thousands of supporters with a call for a strong and new Turkey, as he held his final mass rally ahead of presidential polls he is widely expected to win.

"God willing a new Turkey will be established tomorrow. A strong Turkey will be born out of its ashes once more tomorrow," Erdogan told cheering loyalists in the conservative central Anatolian city of Konya.

Konya is known as the bastion of his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the rally marked the culmination of almost 30 mass election meetings Erdogan has held up and down the country since early July.

Turkey will for the first time vote directly for its next president Sunday, with Erdogan looking set to continue more than a decade of domination over the country as head of state.

Previous Turkish presidents, including outgoing Abdullah Gul, have performed largely ceremonial functions but Erdogan has made no secret that he would be a different kind of head of state who "sweats and runs around."

He has called for constitutional changes after the 2015 general election to give the presidency U.S.-style executive powers.

In his final rally, Erdogan vowed he would raise Turkey's democratic standards and economic record to create a "world leader and global power."

He said: "There is no unattainable dream or unattainable objective for this nation. The 12 years we have passed are a witness to this."

Erdogan's ruling party has presided over a dynamic economy having won every election since it came to power in 2002.

A recent survey found that Erdogan would win in the first round with 57 percent of the vote against his rivals -- the main opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas.

"You elected the people's party on Nov. 3 (2002) and God willing, you will elect the people's president tomorrow," Erdogan said in Konya.

He also boasted Turkey's foreign policy would be "more proactive" under his tenure.

"We will be the advocate of justice in the world," he said.

A former Islamic firebrand, Erdogan has often bashed Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and compared the offensive in Gaza to "Hitler-like fascism."

Erdogan, a famously tough campaigner, mercilessly mocked his political opponents at election rallies across the country.

On Saturday, he accused Demirtas's pro-Kurdish HDP party of "Kurdish nationalism" and the Nationalist Movement Party of "Turkish nationalism" while calling the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), whose strongholds are on the Aegean coast, as the "party of coasts."

Opponents say Erdogan has exposed fault lines in Turkish politics and his uncompromising stance created a deep divide between his pious supporters and the secular segments of society.

Erdogan however vowed that he would embrace all citizens, including minorities, without any discrimination and shrugged off concerns that his presidency would interfere in people's lifestyles.

"Let's leave old Turkey behind. The deadline of politics based on polarisation and fears has expired," he said.

"Regardless of their faith, minorities whether they are Armenians, Greeks, Yazidi or Assyrian are equal citizens of this country and are under our guarantee."

Erdogan also said he would keep the country united and put aside fighting and pressures.

"We are in the hearts of 77 million. We embrace all. This is our difference," he said.

"We are Turkey all together."

Demirtas meanwhile made a final bid for non-Kurdish votes by holding a rally in Izmir, a traditional stronghold of the CHP.

"We cannot build our union by accusing each other. Let's show our colours at the ballot box tomorrow with our oppressed identities and faiths," he said.





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