Violence mars Turkish elections seen as referendum on government

Early count shows close race between Erdogan's ruling AKP and main opposition in Istanbul and Ankara

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Two men were killed in violence related to Turkey’s local elections on Sunday as the country held polls seen as a crucial indicator of continued support for the ruling party.

The elections came as Turkey faces soaring prices and double-digit unemployment in an economic crisis that many observers say could damage the chances of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) holding on to key cities such as Ankara and Istanbul.

During a polarising campaign, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has portrayed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Iyi Party as being aligned to terrorists while seeking to blame the West for causing Turkey’s problems.

In Ankara, seen as the most likely to fall after 25 years of control by the AKP and its predecessors, the CHP’s Mansur Yavas was leading on 49 per cent, a point ahead of his AKP rival, with 42 per cent of votes counted.

In Istanbul, another target for the CHP, the AKP candidate was leading by less than 4 points with 72 per cent of votes counted.

Although half a million security personnel were on duty, voting was marred by violence across the country.

In Malatya, south-east Turkey, two election workers from the Saadet Party, which is part of an opposition alliance, were killed in a dispute with the relative of an AKP candidate, according to Saadet Party leader Temel Karamollaoglu.

He said the workers were shot dead in Puturge district during a fight about breaches in ballot secrecy. The governor’s office said four people had been arrested.

Voting in Uskudar on Istanbul’s Asian side, President Erdogan promised a full investigation into the killings but warned against “a judgment between political parties”.

Elsewhere, clashes between groups of armed voters led to dozens of people being injured.

In Kadikoy, a largely opposition-supporting neighbourhood of Istanbul, one person was stabbed outside a polling station and two people were wounded in Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir province’s Kayapinar district during a fight between groups wielding knives and clubs.

The interior ministry said there had been 310 “incidents” related to the elections, including intimidation, assault, weapon possession and disruption to voting.

The AKP candidate for Istanbul, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, welcomed the “festivals of democracy” taking place across Turkey while his rival, the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu, said the day marked a “new beginning”.

In further disruption, the polls in south-western province Denizli and eastern Erzincan were hit by mild earthquakes.

Across the country, there were reports of irregularities, with some voters refusing to vote behind screens, a method AKP supporters have adopted in the past to demonstrate their backing for the party.

There were also claims of repeat voting and of large numbers of security force personnel not abiding by regulations while casting their ballots in the largely Kurdish south-east. The independent Dokuz8 News said the records of nearly 6,500 voters in Siirt had been erased and police and soldiers had been bussed into the province from across Turkey to vote.

AKP activists allegedly breached a ban on election-day canvassing, with supporters reportedly handing out gift packages, election vans continuing to operate and posters still on show.

The vote was marked by the arrest of dozens of candidates, activists and observers from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Istanbul on Friday evening, followed by further arrests of HDP supporters on Sunday. The party, which is strongest in the south-east but also appeals to leftists across Turkey, said more than 700 of its supporters had been arrested since the start of the campaign.