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Erdogan says Uber is 'finished' in Turkey

Comments come three weeks before keenly contested presidential and parliamentary elections
Uber driver Kemal Kuru was beaten by assailants on way to pick up customer (AFP/file photo)

Uber faces being banned in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the ride hailing app was "finished" following an intense lobbying campaign from Istanbul taxi drivers.

About 17,400 taxis operate in Istanbul, home to about a fifth of Turkey's population of 81 million people, and since Uber entered the country in 2014, tensions have risen sharply.

Erdogan's statement came after new regulations were announced in recent weeks tightening transport licensing requirements, making it more difficult for drivers to register with Uber and threatening a two-year ban for violations.

"This thing called Uber emerged. That business is finished. That does not exist anymore," he said in a speech in Istanbul late on Friday.

"We have our taxi system. Where does this (Uber) come from? It is used in Europe; I do not care about that. We will decide by ourselves," added Erdogan, who is running for re-election.

Uber had no response to his comment on Saturday. After the transport licensing changes were announced, it said it wanted to work with all sides to improve transport and to be "a true partner to Turkey for the long term".

Uber said that about 2,000 yellow cab drivers use its app to find customers, while another 5,000 work for UberXL, using large vans to transport groups to parties, or take people with bulky luggage to Istanbul's airports.

It declined to reveal the number of Uber users in Turkey, where it operates in Istanbul, and in the resort towns of Bodrum and Cesme in the summer months.

Taxi drivers

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim's government last month issued the directive sharply hiking fines and threatened blacklisting for companies whose vehicles illegally work as taxis.

The official taxi drivers association said at the time the measure would be a major threat to Uber if it was properly enforced by the traffic police.

Erdogan’s comments come three weeks ahead of the keenly contested presidential and parliamentary elections. Many Istanbul taxi drivers - though not all - are strong Erdogan supporters and the main taxi associations back him.

After Erdogan spoke, dozens of taxi drivers rallied to support him outside his private residence in the Uskudar district of Istanbul, the Dogan news agency said.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu backed up Erdogan's comments, describing Uber as an "unauthorised carrier, in other words a pirate carrier".

"Turkey is a state of law. We don't need to say sorry for this. It (Uber) has not been given the authorisation to carry out taxi services," he was quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency as saying.

Istanbul’s taxi drivers slam Uber as "pirates" who are swallowing their incomes in an already tight market. 

Uber drivers have been physically attacked and even fired at, but taxi drivers claim they are not involved in a harassment campaign.

Uber has expanded rapidly in Turkey and according to Turkish news reports there are more than 10,000 Uber vehicles in Istanbul.

The tension in Turkey is one of a number of headaches for Uber and its new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over last August after founder Travis Kalanick was ousted following a series of scandals.

It has lost its license in London, although it is still operating there pending appeal, while its self-driving car programme in the United States suffered a blow with a deadly accident.

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