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Ailing Erdoğan re-emerges at nuclear plant event with Putin by video link

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Turkey’s ailing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday re-emerged from a two-day absence and spoke by video link with Vladimir Putin at a virtual ceremony unveiling a Russian-built nuclear power plant, Agence France-Presse reported.

The 69-year-old leader suspended all campaigning for Turkey’s pivotal May 14 election after getting sick while speaking during a live TV interview on Tuesday evening.

Erdoğan said he had developed an upset stomach while hopping between five cities for rallies and public project launches at the start of the week.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday that Erdoğan had gastroenteritis — a short-term infection caused by the inflammation of the digestive tract.

But the scare forced Erdoğan to cancel events on Wednesday and then stay at home instead of travelling to the Mediterranean coast for Thursday’s grand opening of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

The video appearance represented Erdoğan’s effort to project health and vigor at one of the more vulnerable moments of his two-decade rule.

But he looked wan and visibly frail as he addressed Putin and the nation from behind his presidential desk.

“Our country has risen to the league of nations with nuclear power, albeit after a 60-year delay,” Erdoğan said in prepared remarks.

‘Disinformation’

Erdoğan is known for his love of campaigning and embrace of political fights.

Polls suggest either that he is running neck-and-neck or losing against opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in Turkey’s most momentous election in decades.

His Islamic-rooted party’s control of parliament through an alliance with a far-right group is also under threat.

Erdoğan had used his rallies to launch fierce attacks on the opposition and portray himself as a man who gets the job done.

That image has been shaken — and his office is fighting back.

The president’s powerful media director, Fahrettin Altun, posted screen shots on Twitter of Chinese state media and some popular accounts speculating about Erdoğan’s condition being more serious than officially reported.

“We categorically reject such baseless claims regarding President Erdoğan’s health,” Altun wrote.

“No amount of disinformation can dispute the fact that the Turkish people stand with their leader and Erdoğan and his AK Party are set to win the May 14 elections.”

Guarded secret

Rumors about Erdoğan’s health have been circulating since he underwent two gastrointestinal surgeries in 2011 and 2012.

The operations left him with a slight hitch in his gait that appears to have fed some of the social media speculation.

Turkey does not publicize the results of its leaders’ health evaluations and it is illegal to “insult the president.”

Thousands of people have been prosecuted for the offense — punishable by either a fine or a prison sentence of up to four years.

Turkey’s main opposition leaders all quickly tweeted messages wishing Erdoğan a speedy recovery.

Erdoğan’s video linkup with Putin unveiled a project that Russia began building during a chill in Ankara’s relations with its Western allies in 2018.

Construction of the Akkuyu plant was complicated by sanctions the West imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“Yes, we have certain logistical problems,” Akkuyu plant director Sergei Butskikh told reporters on the eve of the launch.

“The transportation routes are getting longer. Not all the shipping companies are able to work with us. So here, yes, we feel the sanctions,” he added.

“But this has not affected the quality of the plant’s construction.”

Erdoğan has been one of the few world leaders to maintain good relations with Putin by refusing to sign on to Western sanctions on Russia and trying to mediate an end to the war.

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