Political News

The Latest: EU leaders urge Ankara to move slowly post-vote

Posted April 16

— The Latest on the referendum in Turkey, set to decide whether more power should be concentrated in the hands of the president (all times local):

12:20 a.m.

The European Union's top officials have responded cautiously to the outcome of Turkey's constitutional referendum and are calling on the government to seek a broad consensus as changes to the country's system of government are implemented.

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a joint statement late Sunday that they "take note of the reported results" indicating the referendum expanding the presidency's powers was approved.

They noted that they are awaiting a report from international election observers on the vote and alleged irregularities.

The three say the constitutional amendments and their enactment "will be assessed in light of Turkey's obligations as a European Union candidate country and as a member of the Council of Europe."

The EU leaders said: "In view of the close referendum result and the far-reaching implications of the constitutional amendments, we also call on the Turkish authorities to seek the broadest possible national consensus in their implementation."

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11:35 p.m.

The head of Turkey's electoral board has confirmed that the "yes" votes have won a critical referendum on whether to expand the powers of the country's president.

Sadi Guven confirmed the referendum's passage shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory based on unofficial results.

Keman Kilicdaroglu, the head of the country's main opposition party, is questioning the results. He says the Supreme Electoral Board shouldn't have decided to accept as valid ballot papers that did not bear the board's official stamp.

He accused the board of changing the rules in the middle of the vote.

In previous elections, ballot papers without the official seal were declared invalid.

Guven defended the decision, saying "there is no question of changing the rules in the middle of the game."

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11:15 p.m.

The head of Turkey's main opposition party is objecting to actions taken by the country's electoral board during the referendum on whether to expand the powers of the president.

Republican People's Party Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the Supreme Electoral Board had "rendered the referendum polemical" on Sunday by making an unprecedented announcement that it would accept as valid ballots cast without official stamps.

Kilicdaroglu says: "You cannot change the rules of the game in the middle of the game."

He says the board "changed the rules in violation of the laws" and "cast a shadow on the results."

Kilicdaroglu spoke shortly after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory in the referendum, citing unofficial results.

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11 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan briefly struck a conciliatory tone in a speech after a close victory in Turkey's referendum to expand his authority, saying there were no losers or winners in the race.

Erdogan initially said after unofficial results showed the referendum narrowly passing that "no matter the color of their ballot, I thank every single individual of our nation who went to the ballot boxes and claiming their will."

But the appeasement was short-lived.

Addressing crowds outside his Istanbul residence minutes later, Erdogan slammed critics whom he said "belittled" the result, telling them their efforts would be "in vain."

Erdogan also told supporters chanting for the death penalty to be reinstated that he would discuss the issue with other political leaders and may even seek a new referendum.

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10:20 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says unofficial results show a referendum that will significantly expand the presidency's powers winning with a margin of 1.3 million votes.

Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone while speaking to reporters in Istanbul about the referendum results on Sunday night.

He thanked all voters regardless of how they cast their ballots and described the referendum as a "historic decision."

According to results carried Sunday by the state-run Anadolu news agency, the "yes" vote had about 51.3 percent compared to 48.7 percent for the "no" vote with nearly 99 percent of the vote counted.

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9:55 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff says the close outcome for Turkey's constitutional referendum shows there is "lively political debate" in the country.

Peter Altmaier told ARD television on Sunday: "I think what we can say this evening is that the result was closer than some people feared."

Altmaeier says it's too early to say more because the vote count has not been finalized.

He noted that election observers still have to deliver their opinion of the election.

Meanwhile, a prominent Turkish journalist now based in Germany is calling the close outcome a "lesson" for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, was convicted of revealing state secrets but left for Germany after he was freed on appeal.

Dundar says a narrow win "is not good" for Erdogan and "a kind of lesson, and I hope he will get this lesson."

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9:45 p.m.

Turkey's prime minister has declared a victory based on unofficial results for backers of a referendum to greatly expand the powers of the country's president.

Results carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed the "yes" vote had about 51.3 percent compared to 48.7 percent for the "no" vote with nearly 99 percent of the vote counted.

Addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters on Sunday night, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the "unofficial' final result is 'yes'" for the constitutional referendum.

Yildirim spoke on the balcony of his governing AK Party headquarters in Ankara, addressing a crowd of about 3,000 people who waved flags and chanted the name of the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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9:20 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister has hailed his government's narrow win in a referendum as the birth of a "new Turkey"

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a group of supporters in his hometown of Antalya on Sunday: "As of now, there is a truly new Turkey. There will be stability and trust in the new Turkey."

With more than 97 percent of votes counted Sunday, 51.4 percent of voters backed the constitutional changes that usher in a new political system that greatly expands the powers of the president.

The changes doing away with Turkey's parliamentary system of government constitute one of the most radical political reforms since the Turkish republic was established in 1923.

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9:10 p.m.

The leader of Turkey's main nationalist party has declared victory for the referendum to expand the powers of the country's presidency.

Nationalist Action Party head Devlet Bahceli said in a statement that Turkish voters chose of their free will to move the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system of government.

Bahceli called the outcome "a very important success; a win that makes neglect and denial impossible."

He says Turkey rejected international "pressure, blackmail, imposition, force and threats by the whole world to put the 'no' choice forward."

The party, the fourth largest in parliament, backed Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the governing Justice and Development Party in their push to change Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential one.

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8:50 p.m.

Turkey's main opposition party says it will challenge 37 percent of the ballot boxes counted in Turkey's referendum to increase the president's powers.

Republic People's Party, or CHP, Deputy Chairman Erdal Aksunger predicted that the figure could even increase to 60 percent.

Aksunger said: "Since this morning, we have determined some 2.5 million problematic votes."

The country's pro-Kurdish opposition party, which also opposed the constitutional changes, says it plans to object to two-thirds of the ballots.

The Peoples' Democratic Party said on its Twitter account: "Our data indicates a manipulation in the range of 3 to 4 percent."

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8:45 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister says it will be important to "keep a cool head" after the Turkish referendum on increasing the president's powers, whatever the outcome.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a brief statement Sunday that it's a good thing the bitter campaign for the referendum is over.

Tensions flared between the governments of Turkey and European countries, particularly Germany and the Netherlands, over restrictions on Turkish politicians campaigning for the votes of compatriots who live abroad.

Gabriel says a close result, as expected, appears likely.

He said: "However the Turkish people's vote goes in the end, we are well-advised to keep a cool head and proceed with calm."

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8:35 p.m.

Officials say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is thanking allies and supporters for the passage of a constitutional referendum he backed that greatly expands his powers.

Officials said Erdogan called nationalist allies on Sunday night to congratulate them for the result as vote-counting was continuing, but nearly completed.

With 97 percent of votes counted Sunday, 51.4 percent backed the constitutional changes.

Erdogan supporters were celebrating with fireworks in Istanbul as the vote count was winding up.

Erdogan says he is "grateful" to the people who "reflected their will'

However, the vice chairman of Turkey's main opposition party says the party will contest 37 percent of the votes counted.

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8:16 p.m.

Results from Turkey's state news agency show the "yes" side appearing to be heading toward a narrow victory in the country's referendum on whether to expand President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers.

The Anadolu agency said that with 97 percent of votes counted Sunday, 51.4 percent backed the constitutional changes to replace Turkey's parliamentary system with a presidential vote, with 48.6 percent voting against them.

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7:25 p.m.

Turkey's state news agency says the lead for the "yes" side in the country's referendum on expanding the president's powers has narrowed to 4 points with 94 percent counted.

Results carried by Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency show the "yes" votes were leading with nearly 52 percent in Sunday's referendum.

Earlier returns had shown the "yes" votes leading by 10 points, but the gap gradually narrowed as more results came through.

If the "yes" vote prevails in Sunday's historic referendum, the 18 constitutional changes will replace Turkey's parliamentary system of government with a presidential one.

The changes include abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule by the 63-year-old Erdogan.

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6:55 p.m.

Turkey's main opposition party has criticized the decision of the country's elections board to accept as valid ballot papers that don't have its official stamp.

Republican People's Party deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan told reporters Sunday that the decision leaves the results of the constitutional referendum "faced with a serious legitimacy problem."

Turkey's Supreme Election Board announced the unprecedented move after many voters casting their votes in the country's historic referendum complained that they were given ballot papers without the official stamp. The board says the ballot papers would be considered as invalid only if proven that they were cast fraudulently.

In previous votes, ballot papers without the official seal were declared to invalid.

Tezcan said: "The Supreme Electoral Board has changed the rules of the vote....This amounts to the SEB allowing fraud in this vote."

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6:40 p.m.

Turkey's Supreme Election Board has announced that ballot papers that don't bear the board's official seal will be deemed valid and counted.

The board said it made the unprecedented decision Sunday after many voters who cast their votes in the country's historic presidential referendum complained that they were given ballot papers without the official stamp.

In previous elections, ballot papers without the official seal were declared invalid.

The board says ballot papers for the referendum will be considered invalid only if it's proven that they were cast fraudulently.

Voters were asked to check that their ballot papers bore the official stamp.

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6:20 p.m.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency says with 57 percent of ballots counted, the "yes" votes are leading with 56.5 percent in a referendum on whether to expand the president's powers.

If the "yes" vote prevails in Sunday's historic referendum, the 18 constitutional changes will replace Turkey's parliamentary system of government with a presidential one, abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan and his supporters say the "Turkish-style" presidential system would bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by a coup attempt last year and a series of devastating attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

Opponents fear the changes will lead to autocratic one-man rule by the 63-year-old Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms.

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6 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says that "yes" votes are leading in Turkey's referendum on expanding presidential powers.

The Anadolu Agency says an estimated 38 percent of votes have been tallied and the "yes" side stands at nearly 60 percent of the tally.

If the "yes" vote prevails, the 18 constitutional changes will replace Turkey's parliamentary system of government with a presidential one, abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to the president.

Critics say the move grants too sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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5 p.m.

Polling stations have closed in Turkey's landmark referendum on whether to approve constitutional amendments greatly expanding presidential powers.

Results are expected later Sunday. Turkey has no official exit polls and media are barred from publishing or broadcasting election results until the High Election Board lifts the ban at 1800 GMT or earlier.

If the "yes" vote prevails, the 18 constitutional changes will replace Turkey's parliamentary system of government with a presidential one, abolishing the office of the prime minister and granting sweeping executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan and his supporters say the "Turkish style" presidential system would bring stability and prosperity in a country rattled by a failed 2016 coup and a series of deadly attacks by the Islamic State group and Kurdish militants.

But opponents fear the changes would lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.

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4:50 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says at least eight people wanted by authorities for their alleged links to outlawed groups have been detained at polling stations.

Anadolu Agency said the suspects were detained in the cities of Adana, Malatya and Trabzon on Sunday by police who were waiting at polling stations for them to cast their votes in Turkey's historic referendum on whether to expand the president's powers.

At least five the individuals were detained for alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, according to Anadolu.

The three others were wanted for ties to a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey accuses of carrying out last summer's failed military coup.

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4:10 p.m.

Polling stations in Turkey's 32 eastern provinces have closed for the country's historic referendum on whether to expand presidential powers.

Voting in the more populous western provinces will end an hour later at 5 p.m. local time (14:00 GMT).

If the "yes" vote wins, 18 constitutional amendments would transform Turkey's system of government from parliamentary to presidential, abolish the office of the prime minister and grant sweeping executive powers to the president.

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3:50 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says the death toll in a fight outside a polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir has risen to three.

Anadolu news agency said a land feud may have been the reason for Sunday's deadly quarrel, while the private Dogan news agency reported it as caused by "differences in political opinion."

The fight took place outside a village school where voting is going on for Turkey's historic referendum on expanding the president's powers.

Anadolu said two people were detained and gendarmes took security precautions at the village.

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3:40 p.m.

The leader of Turkey's main nationalist party has cast his vote for the referendum in Ankara.

The Nationalist Action Party's Devlet Bahceli, a supporter of the constitutional amendments proposed in the referendum, described the vote as "an important turning point in the lives of our people."

The party, the fourth largest in parliament, has backed Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party in their push to change Turkey's parliamentary system into a presidential one.

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1:30 p.m.

Observers from the 57-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are monitoring the voting process in the Turkish capital as the country headed to polling stations in a historic referendum.

Tana de Zulueta, the head of the OSCE observation mission, said the group has been in the country since March 17 "to assess the campaign including the media environment, the legal framework, the conduct of the campaign for its conformity with international standards to which Turkey is party."

She said observers visited polling stations in 12 locations Sunday to complete its referendum assessment mission.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized OSCE on Friday, saying, "Who are you? First know your place. You cannot meddle in what happens."

The group is expected to hold a news conference Monday on their preliminary findings and conclusions regarding the referendum process.

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1 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says two people have died in a fight outside a polling station in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir.

Anadolu news agency said a quarrel between two families turned deadly Sunday in a village school's garden where people were casting their votes on Turkey's referendum.

Voters are deciding Sunday whether to approve or reject changes that greatly expand the president's powers.

The agency said the reasons for the fight were unknown. The private Dogan news agency reported it as caused by "differences in political opinion."

One person remains hospitalized, and two others have been detained in the incident.

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12:20 p.m.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party and campaigner for a "no" vote in the referendum on constitutional amendments, has cast his ballot in the capital Ankara.

"We are voting for Turkey's fate today," Kilicdaroglu said, adding: "we hope the results will be good and together we can have the opportunity to discuss Turkey's other fundamental problems."

Kilicdaroglu, who leads the Republican People's Party, has been a vocal critic of the proposed constitutional amendments, arguing that increased presidential powers would lead to "one-man rule" in Turkey.

More than 55 million people are registered to vote in Sunday's historic referendum.

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12 p.m.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast his ballot in Istanbul in a referendum he described as a "not an ordinary vote."

Speaking to reporters after voting, Erdogan said: "We have held referendums before. But this referendum is now about a new administrative system for the Republic of Turkey, it's a choice for change and transformation."

"We need to make a decision that is beyond the ordinary," he said, adding that he hopes the nation will make the "expected" decision.

"I believe in my nation's democratic common sense," he said.

Bodyguards with automatic weapons stood guard outside the polling station as the president and his wife Emine Erdogan cast their ballots. Two of their grandchildren accompanied the couple.

Scores gathered to greet the president and snap pictures outside the polling station.

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11 a.m.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has cast his vote in the western province of Izmir, saying the outcome of the referendum is for the nation to decide.

Speaking to reporters outside the polling station after casting his vote, he said: "Whatever the result is, we will hold it in high esteem. The decision of our nation is the most beautiful decision."

The crowd in the polling station chanted, "Turkey is proud of you."

Both Yildirim and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have led the campaign for a "yes" vote in the months leading up to the referendum.

Voters are deciding on Sunday whether to approve constitutional amendments that would replace the parliamentary system with a presidential one, scrapping the office of the prime minister and handing its powers to the president.

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10:20 a.m.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has lambasted foreign countries for attempting to influence Turkey's historic referendum as he cast his vote in the southern province of Antalya.

Cavusoglu said some "from abroad" ''tried to tell the Turkish nation what to do. They took sides but today the decision belongs to our nation."

He did not specify who he was referring to, but tensions have been high between Turkey and some European countries, particularly Germany and the Netherlands. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan branded both countries Nazis for not allowing Turkish ministers to campaign for a "yes" vote there.

The Netherlands withdrew Cavusoglu's landing permission in March, barring him from addressing expatriate Turks there. Turkey said it would impose sanctions and halted high-level political discussions.

Polls opened Sunday in a crucial referendum on whether to increase presidential powers.

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9:40 a.m.

People were already lined up at an Istanbul polling station before it opened for Turkey's historic referendum on whether to grant sweeping powers to the president's office.

"We are here early to say 'no' for our country, for our children and grandchildren," said retired tax officer Murtaza Ali Turgut. His wife Zeynep agreed, saying: "I was going to come sleep here last night to vote at first light."

Another "no" voter, Husnu Yahsi, said: "I don't want to get on a bus with no brake system. A one-man system is like that."

In another Istanbul neighborhood, a "yes" voter expressed full support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Yes, yes, yes. Our leader is the gift of God to us. We will always support him. He's governing so well," Mualla Sengul said.

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7 a.m.

The first polling stations have opened in Turkey's historic referendum on reforms that would concentrate power in the hands of the nation's president.

The 18 constitutional changes would convert Turkey's system of government from parliamentary to presidential, and abolish the office of the prime minister.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called the referendum and has championed the "yes" campaign, says the proposed "Turkish style" presidential system will ensure the country no longer risks having weak governments. Opponents fear the change will lead to autocratic one-man rule, ensuring Erdogan, who has been accused of repressing rights and freedoms, could govern until 2029 with few checks and balances.

Polls in the east opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT), while those in the west are to open an hour later.

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