ISTANBUL: The main rival of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s presidential election launched his campaign on Thursday, positioning himself as a unifying figure against a dangerously polarising opponent.
Seeking to make clear the differences between himself and the premier, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is urging voters in the August 10 poll to unite behind him after a turbulent year that saw the country divide between Erdogan’s pious supporters and the secular segments of society. A veteran diplomat but inexperienced politician, Ihsanoglu has considerable distance to make up on Erdogan, a famously tough campaigner who has already begun holding mass rallies attended by thousands of supporters.
“I am the presidential candidate of all parties. I am not close to one party more than any other. I’ll be the president of everyone: workers, drivers, the youth, the women, the oppressed,” Ihsanoglu told reporters in Istanbul. Ihsanoglu criticised the brutal police crackdown against anti-government protesters that sparked last year’s unrest that left eight people dead and thousands injured. The protests began as a local movement to stop Istanbul’s Gezi Park from being razed but quickly blew up into wider nationwide demonstrations against Erdogan’s perceived authoritarianism.
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