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Kılıçdaroğlu hints Erdoğan targeted him for Alevi identity after prayer rug incident

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Presidential candidate and main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has implied that his Alevi identity was the real reason President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeted him after a controversial prayer rug incident.

Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the joint presidential candidate of an opposition bloc of six parties known as the Nation Alliance, is one of two main contenders in Turkey’s presidential election on May 14, with the other being the country’s current president, Erdoğan.

A photo showing Kılıçdaroğlu stepping on a prayer rug with his shoes on recently triggered a debate in Turkey, with pro-government media outlets and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) figures targeting him for allegedly insulting religious values.

The photo, taken during an iftar gathering on March 31 as Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, went viral on social media.

The CHP leader apologized for the incident, stating he had not noticed the prayer rug on the floor due to the crowd and that the photo was being used as part of a defamation “operation” against him.

Erdoğan took advantage of the situation, getting his rival booed by a crowd at an election rally in İstanbul last week.

Following the development, Kılıçdaroğlu on Thursday implied in a tweet that his Alevi identity, which has also been an issue in the race, with some arguing that Turkey’s Sunni Muslims wouldn’t vote for him, was the real reason Erdoğan targeted him during the rally, using the prayer rug faux pas as an excuse.

“Well, doesn’t Erdoğa know that this [defamation operation] will not work? He knows. [But] he’s aiming for something else. … Erdoğan, spill the beans. … Just say it and be done with it,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to his Alevi identity.

The CHP leader also underlined that they have said everything there is to say about the prayer rug incident and that “sincere” Muslims would understand him.

The prayer rug incident has sparked a debate about the differences between secular and conservative lifestyles in Turkey, which Erdoğan has exploited for years to further polarize society.

President Erdoğan, whose ruling AKP has its roots in political Islam, attracts frequent criticism for abusing people’s religious sensitivities to remain in power and to keep his voter base happy. Opinion polls show the AKP losing support amid serious financial problems in the country.

Erdoğan’s 20-year rule as first as prime minister and then as president saw him champion the rights of conservative Muslims after decades of more secular rule.

Kılıçdaroğlu has been trying to woo Erdoğan’s core supporters and attract some of the AKP’s vote by abandoning his party’s hard-line secularism and embracing a more moderate tone toward conservative Muslims.

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