Turkey's Erdogan, main rival stage final election rallies

Turkey's Erdogan, main rival stage final election rallies

Supporters of Muharrem Ince, presidential candidate of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), take part in an election rally in Istanbul on June 23, 2018.

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

The vote will be closely watched by the European Union - which Erdogan says he still wants Turkey to join despite the accession process grinding to a halt - and the United States which has seen no improvement in ties with its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally under Donald Trump.

More than 56 million voters began gathering outside polling centers 8 a.m. local time to cast their ballots.

But he reckoned without Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanised Turkey's long-demoralised and divided opposition.

The landmark election day was rescheduled to a year-and-a-half before its original date following a joint proposal made by Erdoğan and National Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli on April 18.

More news: USA military to send 215 caskets to North Korea

Ince promised voters an independent judiciary that he said would stabilise the economy.

Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on the preacher's followers in Turkey.

Six candidates are vying for the Turkish presidency. According to the latest United Nations figures, some 160,000 people have been detained and almost as many more sacked in the crackdown.

"I voted for the AKP for the future of my children, but my children voted HDP", said one man, adding that he voted for Mr Erdogan over fears that if the president is not again elected, he will start another war in Diyarbakir.

"But if Ince wins, it will not just be Ince who wins..." If the threshold is not reached, a runoff could be held on July 8 between the leading two contenders. "Backing the HDP means supporting democracy", Demirtas said in a video clip from prison, where he is being held on terror-related charges.

The votes of Turkey's Kurdish minority will be especially crucial in the parliamentary poll.

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