Turkey's Erdogan eyes referendum win; critics claim fraud

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum in Istanbul

Campaigning for Turkey referendum hits final stretch

The ´Yes´ campaign to give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanded powers was just ahead of its rival Sunday in a bitterly-contested referendum that will determine Turkey´s future destiny, initial results said.

That constitution was drafted by a military regime, and "Yes" campaigners argued that it had made the country's parliamentary system that is soon to be replaced inherently unstable by creating a succession of weak coalition governments.Meanwhile, "No" campaigned against the constitutional changes, saying that it was a ploy by incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to focus ever-greater executive power into his hands, while also greatly influencing the legislative and judicial branches of government.

Erdogan and his supporters had argued the "Turkish-style" presidential system would bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by a failed coup a year ago that left more than 200 people dead, and a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

Some 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,140 polling stations which opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) in the east and 8 a.m.in the rest of Turkey.

Rising from humble origins to take the helm of the country's government in 2003 as prime minister, Erdogan quickly attracted a fervent following from his support base, but became feared and hated by many who saw him as an increasingly autocratic, power-hungry leader seeking to erode Turkey's secular traditions by imposing his conservative, religious views.

In the southeastern Diyarbakir province, two people were killed and one wounded in a gunfight in a village schoolyard which was being used as a polling station, other security sources said.

"We need to make a decision that is beyond the ordinary", Mr Erdogan said, adding he hoped Turkish voters would make the "expected" decision.

Yildirim was later due to address supporters from the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara while Erdogan was watching the results in Istanbul. "A one-man system is like that". The changes would come into effect with the next general election, scheduled for 2019. "Yes, yes, yes. Our leader is the gift of God to us". Considering the state of emergency in place since last July's coup attempt in Turkey, there was concern among "No" voters that the government would use its institutional influence to secure victory in the April 16 poll. Under the changes, President Erdogan could stay in power through 2029. "If we are here today, it is thanks to him".

The president would be given vastly enhanced powers to appoint cabinet ministers, issue decrees, choose senior judges and dissolve parliament.

The Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions and Kurdish-dominated southeast had backed the ´No´ camp but the ´Yes´ vote had held up strongly in Erdogan´s Anatolian heartland.

The campaign unfolded under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the failed putsch.

"Vote outcome is best response to foreign forces who threaten Turkey", said Turkish PM Binali Yıldırım.

The government says Turkey, faced with conflict to the south in Syria and Iraq, and a security threat from Islamic State and PKK militants, needs strong and clear leadership to combat terrorism.

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