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Erdoğan slams Kılıçdaroğlu for vowing to release Demirtaş, refers to jailed leader as ‘terrorist’

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has criticized one of his rivals, presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for vowing to release jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş if elected president in the May election, referring to Demirtaş as a “terrorist,” local media reported on Monday.

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

During a Monday speech in the western province of Bursa, Erdoğan criticized Kılıçdaroğlu for his election promise to release political prisoners, including such figures as Demirtaş, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who has been behind bars since November 2016, and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

“Mr. Kemal says ‘We’ll empty the prisons.’ But Turkey is a country that adheres to the rule of law. … He even says he will release terrorist Selo,” the president said, referring to Demirtaş.

Demirtaş ran against Erdoğan as a presidential candidate in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in addition to their ultranationalist election partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), accuse the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and also accuse other opposition parties of collaboration with it from time to time.

The PKK, recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s Southeast since 1984.

The HDP currently faces a closure case on charges of “attempting to destroy the indivisibility between the state and the people,” and hundreds of its politicians, including former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.

Meanwhile, Kılıçdaroğlu on Monday vowed during an election rally in northeastern Kars province to put an end to the practice of appointing trustees to replace elected local authorities, which he described as “the biggest obstacle before democracy,” if he is elected president in May.

According to an April poll conducted by the ORC Research Company, Kılıçdaroğlu has a chance of winning the upcoming presidential election with the support of 48.9 percent of participants, slightly lower than the 50 percent plus one vote he needs to win the race in the first round, while Erdoğan garnered 41.5 percent.

A second survey conducted by the company later the same month also showed Kılıçdaroğlu’s vote at 49.3 percent, while Erdoğan secured 42.4 percent.

The ORC survey is considered significant because it predicted the results of the 2018 elections in Turkey more accurately than other pollsters.

Erdoğan, who has been in power for 20 years, is facing his toughest challenge yet, as an increasing number of opinion polls show him trailing Kılıçdaroğlu.

The president has been held responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent years and for a poor response to the twin earthquakes that hit the country’s south, killing tens of thousands and leaving millions homeless in February.

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