Saturday 18 November 2017

Trump congratulates Erdogan as EU calls for vote probe

President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Monday Photo: Reuters
President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Monday Photo: Reuters

Raf Sanchez

The European Commission has called for an investigation into alleged voting irregularities in Turkey's referendum, casting a fresh cloud over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's disputed victory on Sunday.

The call from the EU body came just hours after Donald Trump congratulated Mr Erdogan on his 51pc win, giving the Turkish leader a stamp of US approval amid criticism from Europe and Turkey's political opposition.

The Turkish president has signalled he plans to brush aside the controversy and press ahead with translating the vote into constitutional reforms that will vastly increase his own power.

The commission, made up of representatives from each of Europe's 28 member states, declined to congratulate Mr Erdogan and said that Turkey should look into concerns raised by a team of international election observers.

"We call on the authorities to launch a transparent investigation into these alleged irregularities," Margaritis Schinas, a spokeswoman for the commission, said.

Ms Schinas also warned that the EU would cancel Turkey's long-standing application to join the European bloc if Mr Erdogan pressed ahead with proposals to reinstate the death penalty in Turkey. "Not only is this a red line, but the reddest of all red lines," she said. "We have an unequivocal rejection of the death penalty."

The hard line staked out by the EU came in stark contrast to the reaction from Mr Trump - the only Western leader to congratulate Mr Erdogan after the vote.

Mr Trump called the Turkish leader "to congratulate him on his recent referendum victory" and to discuss the US strike taken against Bashar al-Assad and the operation to drive Isil out of Raqqa, the White House said.

The statement made no mention of the disputed referendum result nor of criticism levelled against Turkey's handling of the vote by the team of observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Mr Trump has shown himself to be comfortable embracing authoritarian leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who he recently welcomed to the White House.

Turkey's main opposition party, the secular CHP, made a formal request for the referendum results to be annulled yesterday.

Its objections focused on a last-minute decision by the High Electoral Board - made as voting was already under way - to accept ballots not officially stamped.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, said the board had "changed the rules of the game during the match".

"This is not something to be forgiven," he said.

The OSCE observers said the board's decision was a violation of Turkey's own election law.

But the board gave no signal it was prepared to accept the CHP's objections and Mr Erdogan's allies warned the opposition to drop its campaign to overturn the results.

"Efforts to cast a shadow on the result of the vote by spreading rumours of fraud are futile and in vain," Binali Yildirim, the Turkish prime minister, said.

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