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Trump called Erdogan to congratulate him on referendum win - Turkish sources

Turkey voted on Sunday to switch to a presidential system, greatly increasing Erdogan’s powers.

US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP.

ANKARA – US President Donald Trump called Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on winning a referendum expanding his authority, sources in Erdogan’s palace said on Monday.

Turkey voted on Sunday to switch to a presidential system, greatly increasing Erdogan’s powers. Unofficial results, which the opposition said it would challenge, showed a narrow victory for him with 51.4% of votes cast in favour.

Erdogan, whose narrow victory laid bare the nation’s divisions, told flag-waving supporters that foreign election observers should “know their place” and Turkey did not “see, hear or acknowledge” criticism that the vote did not live up to international standards.

Sunday’s vote ended all debate on forging a stronger presidency, said Erdogan, who argues that concentration of power is needed to prevent instability.

Opponents accuse him of leading a drive towards one-man rule in Turkey, a Nato member that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria and whose stability is of vital importance to the United States and European Union.

The main opposition party rejected the result and called for the vote to be annulled. Thousands of people marched through at least three neighbourhoods of Istanbul, some chanting “Thief, Erdogan”, “no to the presidency” and “this is just the beginning” after calls on social media for protests in several cities.

Late on Monday, cabinet extended a state of emergency by three months, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters, the third such extension since a failed coup attempt last July.

DEEP DIVIDE

Election authorities said preliminary results showed 51.4% of voters had backed the biggest overhaul of Turkish politics since the founding of the modern republic.

Sources in Erdogan’s palace said US President Donald Trump had telephoned to congratulate him.

But the narrowness of his victory could add to volatility in a country that has lately survived an attempted coup, attacks by Islamists, a Kurdish insurgency, civil unrest and war across its Syrian border.

The result laid bare the deep divide between the urban middle classes who see their future as part of a European mainstream and the pious rural poor who favour Erdogan’s strong hand. Erdogan reiterated his readiness to restore the death penalty at several appearances on Monday, which would effectively end Turkey’s decades-long quest to join the EU.

He said it was not important if the EU suspended Turkish accession talks.

“The crusader mentality in the West and its servants at home have attacked us,” Erdogan told a crowd as he arrived at Ankara airport, referring to the foreign monitors’ assessment.

“We neither see, hear, nor acknowledge the political reports you’ll prepare,” he said later at the palace. “We’ll continue on our path. Talk to the hand. This country has carried out the most democratic elections, not seen anywhere in the West.”

The mission of observers from the 47-member Council of Europe, the continent’s leading human rights body, said the referendum was an uneven contest. Support for “Yes” dominated campaign coverage, and the arrests of journalists and closure of media outlets silenced other views, the monitors said.

“In general, the referendum did not live up to Council of Europe standards. The legal framework was inadequate for the holding of a genuinely democratic process,” said Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation.

While the monitors had no information of actual fraud, a last-minute decision by electoral authorities to allow unstamped ballots to be counted undermined an important safeguard and contradicted electoral law, they said.

Turkey’s foreign ministry dismissed the observers’ criticism as lacking objectivity and impartiality.

The US State Department said it had taken note of the European monitors’ concerns and looked forward to a final report, urging the Turkish government to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, however they voted.