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article imageTurkish police use water cannon against protest rally

Fulya Ozerkan (AFP).
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By Fulya Ozerkan (AFP)     Apr 1, 2014 in World

Turkish police on Tuesday deployed water cannon against protesters who alleged vote-rigging in weekend local polls in which the Islamic-rooted party of Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed sweeping victories.

About 2,000 supporters of the main secular opposition party had massed outside the elections authority in the capital Ankara, chanting "Thief Tayyip!" and "Ankara, don't sleep. Stand up for your vote!"

Riot police then unleashed water jets on the 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," said 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 for driving strong economic growth but has been accused of an increasingly authoritarian ruling style.

Turkey's two biggest cities were the top prizes in the elections, in which Erdogan's AKP declared sweeping wins despite graft claims against the premier's inner circle and an Internet clampdown.

- 'Soldiers of Ataturk' -

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 party.

Pro-CHP demonstrators massed outside the elections authority after the incumbent mayor had declared victory with a wafer-thin margin of about one percent.

The crowd chanted, "We are the soldiers of Ataturk", a popular CHP slogan.

One of the protesters, Tulay Ozturk, told AFP: "I believe the elections are marred by wrongdoing. That's why I am here. I want fair elections."

In the tight Ankara race, Melih Gokcek, the AKP mayor for 20 years, scored 44.79 percent against 43.77 percent for CHP candidate Mansur Yavas, according to the provisional results.

That amounts to a margin of 32,000 votes in the city of about five million people.

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.

"We have evidence of irregularities," CHP lawmaker Aykan Erdemir claimed to AFP earlier Tuesday. "More than 1,000 volunteers have been working for over 48 hours to check data at party headquarters."

Yavas wrote on Twitter that a recount "will reveal the truth" -- the message itself defying an official ban on the site, which has been used to leak corruption claims against Erdogan's political and business allies.

But Yavas, whose party submitted a formal complaint over the Ankara outcome, also urged his Twitter followers to show "restraint" and resist "any kind of provocation".

- 'Cat caused blackouts' -

Supreme Electoral Board president Sadi Guven told reporters: "This is a legal process. We will wait and see. Citizens and political parties should remain calm."

Energy Minister Taner Yildiz blamed other power outages in Turkey on Sunday on weather conditions and said: "Those who lost the elections should not use power cuts as an excuse for their defeat".

In Ankara, where in some areas ballots were counted by candle-light, the minister blamed a cat that had slipped into a power transmission unit and presumably was electrocuted when it caused a short circuit.

"I am not joking, friends," he said. "A cat walked into a transmission unit. That's why there was a power cut. It's not the first time this has happened."

The CHP also legally contested the outcome in the megacity of Istanbul, although the AKP's provisional lead there was far greater at 48 to 41 percent.

Unless irregularities are addressed and all districts recounted, said CHP candidate Mustafa Sarigul, "this election, regardless of its outcome, will be etched in our history of democracy as contentious."

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