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Turkey’s Erdogan blasts main rival as he returns to election trail

Turkish President and Leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks during an electoral rally at Gundogdu Square in Izmir. (Via AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has resumed campaigning for the upcoming presidential election after a days-long pause due to illness, accusing his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Erdogan appeared in public for the first time on Saturday as he visited the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul.

Later in the day, he spoke to his supporters in the city of Izmir, an opposition stronghold.

The public appearance came after a stomach infection that kept the Turkish premier off the campaign trail before the country’s presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.

On Friday, a Kurdish-Left alliance, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), called on its supporters to vote for Kilicdaroglu in the elections.

“At this breaking stage of Turkish politics, we have come together to fulfill our historic duty, both as part of our tradition and our debt to future generations”, the alliance said in a statement.

“In this context, we share with the public our decision to support Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the presidential election.”

During his speech in Izmir, Erdogan referred to the Qandil Mountains in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, where PKK bases are located.

“What does Qandil say? We vote for Kilicdaroglu. Qandil, Qandil... What is Qandil? The heads of the terrorist organization are there,” he said.

The PKK – designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union – has been waging a decades-long armed insurgency against Ankara for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority in the Turkish southeast.

Erdogan, 69, has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and later as president. He is facing criticisms over Turkey’s double-digit inflation and his government’s response to February’s devastating earthquake.

Kilicdaroglu has led Turkey’s main opposition party, the People’s Republic Party (CHP), for 13 years.

The 74-year-old former civil servant has promised to focus on reviving Turkey’s ailing economy and repairing democracy, saying that the nation “cannot afford to lose another five years” to Erdogan.

Most opinion polls have given Kilicdaroglu a slight lead, with expectations that the presidential race could go to a second round.

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