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Violence Mars Turkish Local Elections

March 30, 2014

Clashes between members of rival parties have left at least eight people dead in local elections in Turkey.

Some 52 million registered voters are electing mayors and other officials in cities across the country, with six major parties participating.

Six people were reported killed in the village of Yuvacik, in the country's mainly Kurdish southeast.

Two deaths were also reported in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, near the Syrian border. Nine others were injured there.

The elections are seen seen as a test for the popularity of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Erdogan said as polling continued that the voters' decision must be respected.

'Despite all the undesired statements at rallies, today people will tell the truth and it will be beyond everything. People's words will be decisive rather than those who spoke at rallies. For me, people will make the final call and we respect people's decision.'

The largest opposition party is the centrist Republican People's Party (CHP), which is fiercely contesting against the conservative AKP in the capital, Ankara, and the largest city, Istanbul.

Ahead of the polls, Erdogan's ruling party was weakened by a long-running corruption scandal. Audio leaks have portrayed corruption at high levels and authoritarianism within the government.

In response, the government blocked access to YouTube and Twitter in the week leading up to the election, drawing international criticism.

The highly charged political atmosphere has created a tense mood for the March 30 vote.

'I am 74 years old and I have never seen any elections taking place in such a tense atmosphere, and I hope these will be the last ones,' Ankara resident Unal Sabuncu told Reuters as the voting began. 'From now on, we will hold elections in peace.'

Another Ankara voter Saim Erkoc, said he hoped the national interest would not be sacrificed to party politics.

'I hope that these elections will be good for everyone,' Erkoc said. 'I hope that whichever party is better for this country will win. I wish people will vote for those who really love their country and want to work for the sake of their country. That's what I did.'

Erdogan, who is hailed by his supporters for improving Turkey's economy but is labeled a 'dictator' by his foes, has campaigned for weeks alongside mayoral candidates, turning the vote into a referendum on his 11-year rule.

The outcome -- especially in Istanbul and capital, Ankara -- will affect his future as he eyes a run for the presidency in August or changes party rules to seek a fourth term as prime minister next year.

To ensure the vote runs smoothly, the authorities have delayed by one day Turkey's switch to summer time.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/turkey-vote/25314562.html

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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