Turkish riot police have deployed water cannon against protesters claiming vote-rigging in weekend local election wins by the Islamic-rooted party of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
About 2000 supporters of the main secular opposition party massed on Tuesday in the capital Ankara, chanting “Thief Tayyip!” and “Ankara, don’t sleep. Stand up for your vote!”
Police then unleashed water jets to disperse the vocal and passionate crowd – recalling the street clashes that started last June in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and kicked off months of political turmoil in the country.
The top spokesman for Erdogan’s party condemned the rally, saying on TV: “You cannot claim a victory that the people have not given to you by massing crowds in front of the election board.
“Everyone has a natural right to object but no-one can achieve anything by mobilising the crowds through social media and provoking them,” added Huseyin Celik of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Sunday’s municipal polls were seen as a referendum on the 11-year-rule of Erdogan, who is popular with many Turks for driving strong economic growth but has been accused of an increasingly authoritarian style.
Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, were the top prizes in the elections, in which Erdogan’s AKP declared sweeping wins, despite recent graft claims against the premier’s inner circle and an internet clampdown.
Claims of election fraud have circulated on social media, including a photo which purportedly shows ballots in a garbage heap, and there have been complaints over power blackouts in some areas during the evening vote-count.
The race was especially symbolic in Ankara, the inland capital built by the secular founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established the Republican People’s Party (CHP), now the main opposition group.
Pro-CHP demonstrators massed outside the Supreme Electoral Board building after Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek, in power for 20 years, had declared victory with a wafer-thin margin of about one per cent.
Gokcek dismissed his rivals’ claims, saying: “They want to stir up Turkey … They want to give the impression that democracy in Turkey is being crushed.”
He scored 44.79 per cent against 43.77 per cent for CHP candidate Mansur Yavas, according to the provisional results – a margin of about 30,000 votes.
Yavas wrote on Twitter that a recount “will reveal the truth” – the short message itself defying an official ban on the social media site, which has been used to leak corruption claims against Erdogan’s allies.
In Istanbul the official AKP lead was much wider, at 48 to 41 per cent but CHP candidate Mustafa Sarigul also challenged the results.
Unless irregularities are addressed, he said, “this election, regardless of its outcome, will be etched in our history of democracy as contentious”.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz meanwhile blamed most voting-day power outages on weather conditions.
In Ankara – where in some areas ballots were counted by candle-light – he blamed a cat that slipped into a power transmission unit and presumably was electrocuted when it caused a short circuit.