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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Turkey's President Erdogan back on campaign trail after illness

Turkey's President Erdogan back on campaign trail after illness

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reappeared on the campaign trail in western Turkey on Saturday in the flesh, and in thundering form.

He arrived in the port city of Izmir to a sea of flags, and a large crowd that had been waiting hours under a hot sun. It was a strong turnout in an opposition stronghold.

There was no sign of the illness which caused him to drop out of key events for three days this week - just a fortnight ahead of critical elections. The polls - for the presidency and parliament - will be his toughest challenge yet, after twenty years in power.

The president spoke for almost 40 minutes, in a strong voice, mocking the opposition, raising the spectre of "terrorism", and saying only he could deliver growth for Turkey. It was a combative performance which will have reassured his supporters and may have worried his detractors.

And it was vintage Erdogan.

Many women were present at the rally, which was segregated

His main rival for the presidency, Kemal Kilicdaroglu - a secular candidate backed by an alliance of six parties - will hold a rally in the same spot on Sunday. Opinion polls give a slight lead to Mr Kilicdaroglu - a softly spoken former civil servant - but the election could well be a photo finish.

The Turkish leader, who is 69, startled TV viewers on Tuesday night when he became unwell during a live broadcast, which had to be halted. He blamed it on a stomach bug.

"When I heard the news about his health, I asked God to give me his illness," said Gurbet Dostum, a 42-year-old Mother of two. "I am ready to be in pain for him. He gives us everything."

But many here have less and less, due to rampant inflation which is officially around 50%. Experts have blamed the President's unorthodox economic policies, but not Gurbet. She said those who complained were "greedy and ungrateful and just wanted more and more".

Like many women at the rally - which was segregated - she was wearing a headscarf. The president's bedrock is religious conservatives, but there were secular supporters there too.

"He changed the country," said Guldana, a 57-year-old with a diamond in her tooth. "Before him Turkey was a village."

Religious conservatives are the bedrock of Erdogan's support - but there were secular supporters in the crowd too

An unemployed young woman called Ayse said she would vote for Erdogan for love of her country. "He will make us rise, and get stronger," she said.

Those who back the president want him to extend his long rule and continue with his vision for Turkey. Many Turks want just the opposite. The electorate - like the country - is divided.

Some of those who had waited hours for the president to arrive drifted away while he was still speaking.


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