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Ankara mayor quits after receiving 'orders' from Erdogan

Erdogan says his party needs to make changes ahead of 2019 elections, after showing signs of weakness at ballot box
Former mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek (AFP)

The mayor of Ankara resigned on Saturday on the "orders" of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking to revitalise the ruling party ahead of 2019 elections.

Melih Gokcek, a staunch Erdogan loyalist who had been in charge of the Turkish capital for 23 years, said he was acting in the country's best interests.

"I leave my post of mayor on orders from our leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan," Gokcek, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said in a televised speech.

"I bow to the request of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not because I do not think I have been successful, not because I think I'm tired... but only because I think [Erdogan] can make our country a leader."

The 69-year-old former mayor is one of Turkey's most controversial and high-profile figures, regularly appearing on television and pushing conspiracy theories to his 4 million Twitter followers, Deutsche Welle reported on its website. He has famously claimed Western powers cause earthquakes to hurt Turkey and suggested the Obama administration created the Islamic State group.

Gokcek's successor has not been named.

Erdogan co-founded the AKP as an Islamic-rooted party that also aimed to modernise the economy and push ahead with Turkey's EU membership bid.

Erdogan has repeatedly made clear that the party needs to make "sweeping changes" ahead of the 2019 elections, after it showed signs of weakness at the ballot box.

Mayors resigned

He said in August that "successful" colleagues - including MPs, mayors and regional party officials - would be able to stay in their jobs but those showing "tiredness and weariness" would have to move on.

Several mayors have since resigned, including Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbas who stepped down last month after 13 years in the key post.

Turkey will hold municipal elections in March 2019, followed by presidential and parliamentary polls in November.

While the AKP has never been defeated at the ballot box since first winning power in 2002, there have been signs its grip on power has loosened in recent years.

The president appears to be worried, Deutsche Welle said. A controversial referendum in April to expand presidential powers narrowly passed with 51 percent support. Crucially for Erdogan, the referendum failed to win a majority in Ankara and Istanbul.

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