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Turkey elections: Presidential candidate Ince withdraws

Opposition politician decides to quit following online smear campaign that alleged he had affairs with women and was fabulously wealthy and corrupt
Muharrem Ince makes a statement after applying for the presidency to the Supreme Election Board (YSK) in Ankara on 20 March (AFP)

Turkish presidential candidate Muharrem Ince said he is withdrawing from Sunday's election, citing slander and heavy criticism.

Ince was one of four candidates for the presidential election, but with polls showing him hovering around 2 percent of the vote, the 59-year-old was never a true contender.

At a news conference on Thursday, Ince said he decided to quit following a smear campaign that used fake images of him having affairs with women and painted him as corrupt and wealthy.

His name will still appear on the ballott as they have already been printed.

"I'm withdrawing my candidacy," Ince said. "I am doing this for my country."

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Ince also said he was withdrawing so the joint opposition Table of Six coalition could not blame him if its candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu loses.

A recent poll showed Kilicdaroglu ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by a few percentage points, but falling just short of the 50 percent majority needed to win in the first round.

Although Ince did not endorse any candidate after dropping out, his withdrawal raises the chances of a first-round victory for Kilicdaroglu.

Reacting to the withdrawal, Kilicdaroglu invited Ince to join his coalition.

"My call still stands. Let's put aside old resentments. We welcome Mr Ince to Turkey's table," Kilicdaroglu said in a tweet.

Erdogan meanwhile said he was "saddened" by Ince's withdrawal.

The latest surveys showed Ince picking up between two and four percent of the vote.

The survey by pollster Konda carried out 6-7 May, before Ince's withdrawal, put support for Erdogan on 43.7 percent and Kilicdaroglu on 49.3 percent in the first round, suggesting the two candidates would go to a run-off on 28 May.

The poll said the majority of the candidate's voters were leaning towards voting for Kilicdaroglu in a second round.

"The possibility of Kemal Kilicdaroglu winning has increased with Ince's withdrawal. I would not be surprised if he got 51 percent," said Bekir Agirdir, manager of Konda, speaking on news website T24 after the announcement.

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