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Erdogan scolds rival over ‘Russian interference’ claim

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu for claiming without evidence that Moscow is interfering in Türkiye’s upcoming elections. Erdogan claimed that the West, and not Russia, is “manipulating the elections in Türkiye.”

“[Kilicdaroglu said that] Russia is manipulating the elections in Türkiye. Shame on you!” Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in Istanbul on Friday. 

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In a Twitter post a day earlier, Kilicdaroglu accused the country’s “Russian friends” of being “behind the montages, conspiracies, deep fakes and tapes that were exposed in this country yesterday.” 

“Get your hands off the Turkish state,” Kilicdaroglu warned the supposed Russian meddlers.

Kilicdaroglu was likely referring to the publication of a video showing another presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, allegedly engaging in an extramarital affair. Ince dropped out of the race on Thursday, blaming followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose political movement Ankara claims orchestrated a failed coup in 2016.

There is zero evidence linking Russia with the publication or production of the tape, and the Kremlin said that it “firmly rejects” Kilicdaroglu’s claims. 

“If I say ‘America is manipulating the elections in Türkiye, Germany is manipulating it, France is manipulating it, England is manipulating it’, what would you say?” Erdogan continued, addressing his remarks to Kilicdaroglu.

While Erdogan did not attempt to tie the leak of Ince’s sex tape with any of the Western countries he mentioned, his interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, did. “It is clear who produced it,” he told CNN Turk earlier on Friday. “The perpetrator is the Gulen movement and the US.” 

Soylu claimed that “America has been interfering in this election from the very beginning,” and produced the tape to force Ince out of the race and move his voters to Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan did, however, accuse Western media outlets of trying to shift public opinion in Türkiye against him. 

“What do all the magazines say on their covers? ‘Erdogan must go.’ [Those published] in Germany, France and England say so,” he said at Friday’s rally. “How do you put these words on the covers of these magazines? It’s not you, the West! It’s my nation that will decide!”

READ MORE: US interfering in Türkiye’s elections – Ankara

This week’s edition of The Economist features the slogans “Erdogan must go” and “save democracy” on its cover, while France’s Le Point and L’Express magazines also featured anti-Erdogan covers.

Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections will take place on Sunday. Recent polling shows Erdogan – a social conservative who steered his country away from integration with the EU – and Kilicdaroglu – a centrist who favors realignment with the West – within single digits of each other.

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