Protests in Turkey after referendum criticism by Europe and opposition

#TurkeyChooses

European delegation criticises referendum process for taking place in 'curtailed' environment as demonstrations begin against outcome

Supporters of the "No" hold leaflets reading "no" as they gesture and shout while they gather at the Besiktas district in Istanbul (AFP)
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Tuesday 18 April 2017 9:06 UTC
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Protests broke out across Turkey as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a European observer mission to "know your place" after they criticised Sunday's constitutional referendum.

Speaking to a rally of supporters in Ankara on Monday he said that some European countries had opposed him winning the referendum more than members of the Turkish opposition.

"Know your place first," Erdogan told the monitors in an address to supporters outside his vast presidential palace in Ankara.

"We neither see, hear, nor know those politically motivated reports that you will draft,"  he said after the report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) monitors.

He said that Turkey could hold a referendum on its long-stalled EU membership bid following the criticism.

"For 54 years, what did they make us do at the EU's door? Wait!" Erdogan told supporters.

He added that he would be happy to sign into a law the reintroduction of the death penalty if "adopted by parliament" a move that would effectively end Turkey's EU membership bid.

Protests broke out on Monday evening in numerous cities across Turkey, as representatives from the European human rights organisation's observer mission warned that Sunday's referendum did not live up to standards set by the Council of Europe, citing an inadequate legal framework and late changes in ballot counting.

Turks on Sunday voted by a narrow 51.4 percent margin to change their constitution and grant President Erdogan sweeping new powers. The main opposition party has demanded the result be nullified, saying the voting was marred by irregularities.

Opponents of the constitutional change began spreading the hashtag #HileliSonucaHayır (No to the fraudulent result) on Monday as demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere cried foul over the outcome of the referendum.

At least 1,000 protesters thronged Besiktas on the European side of Istanbul while on the Asian side around 2,000 demonstrators marched through Kadikoy, another staunchly secular and anti-Erdogan neighbourhood, AFP correspondents said.

"We will not make you president" and "We are shoulder to shoulder against fascism," the protesters in Kadikoy chanted, as they marched towards the offices of the Supreme Election Board.

Others brandished viral hashtag slogans from the referendum night like "The 'No' is not finished" and "'No' has won".  

In Besiktas, protesters held pamphlets with the words "We are right, we will win." 

In homes lining the route of the protest, people bashed pots and pans with kitchen utensils from the windows of their apartments to show solidarity.

Police generally kept a low profile on the sidelines of the protest but warned against using offensive slogans.

Smaller protests were also held in other Turkish cities and Turkish media reports said that 13 people were detained in a protest in the southern Mediterranean city of Antalya.

Cezar Florin Preda, head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that monitored the vote, made the comments on the referendum at a news conference in Ankara. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe.

Preda was joined by Tana de Zulueta, head of another team of international observers, who said the referendum fell short of international standards.

"The referendum took place in a political environment in which fundamental freedoms essential to a genuinely democratic process were curtailed under the state of emergency, and the two sides did not have equal opportunities to make their case to the voters," said de Zulueta, head of the ODIHR limited election observation mission.

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"Our monitoring showed the 'Yes' campaign dominated the media coverage and this, along with restrictions on the media, the arrests of journalists and the closure of media outlets, reduced voters' access to a plurality of views."

Turkey's High Electoral Board made a last-minute decision on Sunday to count ballots that had not been stamped by officials.

Turkey's main opposition party on Monday called for the annulment of the referendum, arguing it had widespread reports of voting irregularities.

The foreign ministry on Monday slammed the international observers' criticism as "biased".

"The initial findings in question are a reflection of a biased and prejudiced approach," the ministry said in a statement.

It added that it was "unacceptable" to state that the poll fell short of international standards.

Bulent Tezcan, the deputy chairman of the CHP, or the Republican People's Party, said his party would take its challenge to the country's constitutional court and possibly the European Court of Human Rights.

Erdogan on Sunday secured victory a narrow 51.5 percent majority of voters approving plans to turn the country's parliamentary system into a presidential executive, grant him extensive powers and effectively relegate parliament to a junior body.

Turkey's three largest cities - Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - all voted "No," although "Yes" prevailed in Erdogan's Anatolian heartland.

Tezcan, however, on Monday said he had received complaints from many regions that people had been unable to vote in privacy and said that some ballots were counted in secret. He also said the decision of the YSK election board to accept unstamped ballots was clearly against the law.

"At the moment it is impossible to determine how many such votes there are and how many were stamped later. This is why the only decision that will end debate about the legitimacy [of the vote] and ease the people's legal concerns is the annulment of this election by the YSK," Tezcan said.

He said the CHP would submit complaints to municipal election authorities and the YSK and, depending on the result of those appeals, would go to Turkey's constitutional court, the European Human Court of Rights and any other relevant authority.

European warnings

Turkey extended its state of emergency on Monday by three months starting from Wednesday, its third such extension after a coup attempt last July, a deputy prime minister said. The decision came after the National Security Council advised extending it, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters at a press conference in Ankara.

"A victory of the nation," said the headline in the pro-government Yeni Safak daily. "Turkey has won."

But the Cumhuriyet opposition daily focused on the alleged violations: "A shadow fell over the ballot boxes," it said. 

The new system would dispense with the office of prime minister and centralise the entire executive bureaucracy under the president, giving Erdogan the direct power to appoint ministers.

It would also mean that Erdogan, who became president in 2014, could seek two more five-year terms leaving him in power until 2029.

Erdogan meanwhile has made it very clear there are no plans to dissolve parliament and call for an early election before scheduled polls in 2019, his deputy prime minister, Mehmet Simsek, told Reuters on Monday.

A day after Turks narrowly voted to change the constitution, Simsek said relations with the European Union would be on areas of common interest, adding that some of the "noise" between Ankara and Europe should die down after the European elections cycle.

US President Donald Trump called Erdogan on Monday to congratulate him on winning the referendum expanding his authority, sources in Erdogan's palace said.

There has been some speculation that Erdogan could call a new election so that his new powers could take effect right away, but Simsek dismissed that.

"Yesterday the president made it very clear that elections will be held in November 2019," Simsek said. "It is very clear. We have work to do."