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Opposition CHP claim lead as just over half of votes recounted in Istanbul mayoral election

Republican People's Party candidate Ekrem Imamoglu claims lead of 17,719 votes following recount of disputed election
Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People's Party candidate for mayor of Istanbul, visits Anitkabir in Ankara (Reuters)

Turkey's main opposition party said its Istanbul mayoral candidate was leading over the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party as recounting continued in the country's largest city.

With just over half of the city's ballot boxes recounted following disputed elections on 31 March, the Republican People's Party (CHP) said its candidate Ekrem Imamoglu had a lead of 17,719 votes.

The difference between both candidates remains very slim in an election where over four million votes have been cast. 

Faik Oztrak, a spokesperson for the CHP, said that his party was confident that the initial result showing a victory for Imamoglu, would hold up after the recount finished.

"We won't let the election, which we have won, be stolen by anyone," he said, according to Reuters.

The AKP has claimed that more than 300,000 invalid votes in Istanbul had been cast, and just under 110,000 in Ankara. 

AKP spokesman Omer Celik on Saturday said the party would respect the final decision of the High Election Board.

'European values'

The apparent victory for Imamoglu in Istanbul and CHP mayoral candidate Mansur Yavas in Ankara would mean the AKP losing control of Turkey's three largest cities (including CHP stronghold Izmir) and the biggest electoral upset for the party since 2002.

The AKP's loss of support has been ascribed to a combination of a failing economy and effective campaigning by the opposition CHP. 

The Vice President of The European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said on Saturday that Erdogan and the AKP should respect the results of the local elections and criticised their decision to contest the election results.

"Turkey has been moving away from European values at great speed in recent years. We hope that this will not be made worse by the fact that the AKP doesn't respect the election results," he told the German Welt Am Sonntag newspaper.

He argued that voters in Turkey had shown that they wanted greater alignment with the EU by voting in greater numbers for pro-European parties, despite the AKP still winning the highest number of votes.

"Erdogan must acknowledge that and try to bring his policies closer to European values," he said.

Relations between Turkey and the EU have hit rock bottom in recent years as the latter has criticised what they say is increasingly authoritarian trends in the country, which has been accused of being the "world's biggest jailer of journalists".

Erdogan has, for his part, criticised rising Islamophobia across Europe, as well as the fact that a number of countries host groups linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).