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Opposition disputes Turkey vote as EU urges probe

Demonstration calling for annulment of referendum results
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EU Commission calls on Turkey to launch 'transparent investigations into irregularities found by observers'

Turkey's opposition on Tuesday demanded the annulment of a contentious referendum that approved sweeping constitutional changes boosting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers, claiming blatant vote-rigging had swung the result.

The European Union also urged a probe into the poll fraud claims after international observers voiced concerns, but US President Donald Trump showed no such scruples, calling Erdogan to offer his congratulations.

Critics fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule under Erdogan, but supporters say they simply put Turkey in line with France and the United States and are needed for efficient government.

The 'Yes' camp won Sunday's poll with just 51.41 percent of the vote but the result has been challenged, with opposition claims of vote-rigging and angry protests staged in parts of the biggest city Istanbul.

The changes, most of which are due to come into force after November 2019, are some of the most far-reaching in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the modern state in 1923 on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.

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The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy leader Bulent Tezcan formally requested that the Supreme Election Board (YSK) cancel the result.

The opposition is particularly incensed by a last-minute move by the YSK to accept ballot documents in envelopes without an official stamp.

"This is was an election without legitimacy," Tezcan said after delivering the complaint to YSK headquarters in Ankara, claiming there was an organised campaign to "steal" the people's will.

"There is only one thing to do... and that's to annul the referendum," he said.

- 'Transparent investigations' -

CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu also said the government and the YSK had "staged a coup against the national will" in a posting on Twitter.

He said 'No' would have emerged victorious were it not for the YSK's changes. "We won't stop until we find justice," he said.

The joint mission of OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said the YSK move on the stamps "removed an important safeguard".

BULENT KILIC (AFP)

They also said the campaign -- which saw the 'Yes' camp dominating the airwaves -- was conducted on an "unlevel playing field".

But Erdogan rebuked the OSCE mission, telling the monitors: "know your place", and saying Turkey had no intention of paying any attention to the report.

EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas also called on the Turkish authorities "to launch transparent investigations into these alleged irregularities found by the observers".

Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik quickly hit back, saying: "such a speculative statement from a spokesperson cannot be accepted."

The final results are due to be published in around 10 days and it is in this period that the YSK will consider the objections. Then the opposition can appeal to the constitutional court.

OZAN KOSE (AFP)

- 'US-Turkey friendship' -

The new system will dispense with the prime minister's post and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

But the 'Yes' vote has even wider implications for Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952 and in the last half century has been engaged in a stalled bid to join the European Union.

Erdogan reaffirmed he would now hold talks on reinstating capital punishment -- a move that would automatically end Turkey's EU bid -- and would call another referendum if the bill did not get enough votes in parliament to become law.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that if Ankara were to bring back the death penalty, the move would be "synonymous with the end of (its) European dream".

Bulent Kilic   (AFP)

In contrast with the EU's muted reaction, Trump called Erdogan to "congratulate him on his recent referendum victory", a White House statement said.

Turkish presidential sources quoted the US leader as saying: "I attach importance to our friendship and we have a lot of work to do together."

- 'Control the future' -

In a blow to the president's prestige, the 'No' campaign notched up the most votes in Turkey's three biggest cities: Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

Analysts have said the 'No' camp's performance was impressive especially given that the election was held under a state of emergency first imposed after the failed July coup.

"Under the conditions of the emergency and despite the pressures, our country came out and took control of the future," said CHP leader Kilicdaroglu.

The Hurriyet daily said a major cabinet reshuffle was now in the offing, with changes expected in some 10 cabinet posts.

Meanwhile, parliament agreed to extend the state of emergency -- already in place for nine months -- for another three months to July 19.

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