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Turkish 'Yes' vote leads with 63 percent after quarter of votes counted - NTV

Early counting in Turkey's referendum registered 63% support for a “Yes” vote to give sweeping new powers to President Tayyip Erdogan.

File: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a rally in Istanbul on September 5, 2010. Picture: AFP

ISTANBUL – Early counting in Turkey's referendum registered 63 percent support for a “Yes” vote to give sweeping new powers to President Tayyip Erdogan, broadcaster NTV said on Sunday, adding that around a quarter of the ballots had been tallied.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, opinion polls had shown a narrow lead for a “Yes” vote, which would replace Turkey's parliamentary democracy with an all-powerful presidency and may see Erdogan in office until at least 2029.

The outcome will shape Turkey's strained relations with the European Union. The NATO member state has curbed the flow of migrants - mainly refugees from wars in Syria and Iraq - into the bloc but Erdogan says he may review the deal after the vote.

A crowd chanted “Recep Tayyip Erdogan” and applauded as the president shook hands and greeted people after voting in a school near his home in Istanbul. His staff handed out toys for children in the crowd.

“God willing I believe our people will decide to open the path to much more rapid development,” Erdogan said in the polling station after casting his vote.

“I believe in my people's democratic common sense.”

Some 55 million people were eligible to vote at 167,140 polling stations. Turkish voters abroad have already cast their ballots.

DIVISIVE VOTE

The referendum has bitterly divided the nation. Erdogan and his supporters say the changes are needed to amend the current constitution, written by generals following a 1980 military coup, confront the security and political challenges Turkey faces, and avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

“This is our opportunity to take back control of our country,” said self-employed Bayram Seker, 42, after voting “Yes” in Istanbul.

“I don't think one-man rule is such a scary thing. Turkey has been ruled in the past by one man,” he said, referring to modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Opponents say it is a step towards greater authoritarianism in a country where some 47,000 people have been jailed pending trial and 120,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in a crackdown following a failed coup last July, drawing criticism from Turkey's Western allies and rights groups.

“I voted 'No' because I don't want this whole country and its legislative, executive and judiciary ruled by one man. This would not make Turkey stronger or better as they claim. This would weaken our democracy,” said Hamit Yaz, 34, a ship's captain, after voting in Istanbul.

Relations between Turkey and Europe hit a low during the referendum campaign when EU countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, barred Turkish ministers from holding rallies in support of the changes. Erdogan called the moves “Nazi acts” and said Turkey could reconsider ties with the European Union after many years of seeking EU membership.

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