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article imageFree weddings, gravestones in Turks' plan to boost lira

By Raziye Akkoc with Gokan Gunes in Istanbul (AFP)     Dec 7, 2016 in World

Convert your hard currency to Turkish lira and you could enjoy a free wedding package, a meal and a loaf of bread. Or even a gravestone.

These incentives are being offered by Turkish businessmen to customers who respond to a call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to buy lira and prop up the ailing national currency.

His plea has met with a huge response -- from kebab shop owners to the defence industry -- although economists doubt the campaign will have any lasting impact.

Gokhan Kuk, a baker in Istanbul, told AFP he started offering free bread to those changing $250 into Turkish lira.

"With the help of God, we will raise the lira and annihilate the dollar," he said, sitting in his office decorated with several portraits of Erdogan.

A few shops away, Bulent Baydeniz, who sells Turkish meat patties, offers a free meal for every $250 changed.

A customer (left) shows his dollar exchange receipt to Bulent Baydeniz in return for a for free meal
A customer (left) shows his dollar exchange receipt to Bulent Baydeniz in return for a for free meal
Ozan Kose, AFP

"After I heard the president of the republic, I understood that this could help the country."

In the southeastern city of Gaziantep, businessman Fatih Demir is offering a free 5,000 lira ($1,460) wedding package if people prove they converted $10,000 into lira.

"We are doing this after the president's call to give support for the lira to gain greater value," Demir told AFP.

For those at the end of their life in the northwestern city of Bursa, Enes Alan says he is offering free gravestones worth 750 lira ($220) for those who convert $2,000.

- 'No huge impact' -

But it is not just small business owners who are joining the campaign -- Erdogan also urged shopping mall owners to pay rent in lira for the sake of patriotism.

Bulent Baydeniz talks to AFP outside his Istanbul shop
Bulent Baydeniz talks to AFP outside his Istanbul shop
Ozan Kose, AFP

The religious affairs agency said Turkish Muslims had to pay for pilgrimages in lira and the Istanbul Stock Exchange said its cash assets would be converted to the local currency.

The flow of patriotic conversions continued on Wednesday as the energy market's regulatory authority said natural gas distribution tenders would be offered in lira.

And the government said its defence industry support fund had converted $262.7 million and 31.3 million euros into lira.

The drive has been propped up by a campaign on social media with the hashtag #doviziniturkiyeicinboz (Change your foreign currency for Turkey).

Economist Atilla Yesilada of consultancy Istanbul Analytics suggested the president's call would have a limited impact on the lira because "the problem is Erdogan's voters are usually from the lower income classes" unlikely to have much wealth to convert.

With richer Turks more likely to transfer assets abroad, "it's not going to have a huge impact on our balance of payments or on the value of the currency".

On Wednesday, the lira was trading at 3.42 to the dollar after rallying slightly this week. It had traded at 2.9 to the dollar at the start of the year.

- 'Economic coup' -

With growth stuttering and the lira under pressure, Erdogan has turned preserving Turkey's economic stability into a national struggle, like the defeat of the July coup.

"They are trying to stage a coup through interest rates, stock exchange and foreign currency transactions," Erdogan said on Sunday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned preserving Turkey's economic stability into a national struggle
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned preserving Turkey's economic stability into a national struggle
Adem Altan, AFP

He has repeatedly called for lower interest rates to boost Turkey's growth, even though the central bank is theoretically independent.

In a speech in Ankara on Wednesday, he suggested there was "no difference" between Turkey's fight against Islamic State jihadists in northern Syria and efforts to end foreign exchange speculation.

The president has previously said trade with Russia, China and Iran should be done in local currencies.

But Yesilada said they are "not a huge part" of Turkey's trade thus any impact -- even if they agreed -- would not be "major".

"Fifty percent of our trade is with the EU, that's not going to change," he said.

But he added that offering tenders in Turkish lira was a positive step.

"It's a good idea to sell assets in Turkish lira and to contract tenders in lira. This is sensible."

Turkey's privatisation authority confirmed on Tuesday tenders would henceforth be offered in the local currency.

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