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AK Party Wins In Turkish Vote, But Reform Fate Unclear

Voting in Turkey's municipal elections on March 29
ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey's ruling AK Party won local elections on March 29 but Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, hurt by a weak economy, fell short of a sweeping victory that would have smoothed the way for reforms in the EU candidate.

The AK Party was unable to win the city of Diyarbakir, the largest in the Kurdish southeast, and several other key cities, including Izmir. The secularist opposition also made inroads in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, and in the capital, Ankara.

The vote, the first time the Islamist-rooted AK Party had suffered a slide in support since it swept to power in 2002, took place against a backdrop of record unemployment and a worsening economy. Turkey's once booming economy has been severely hit by the global economic crisis.

"This is a message from the people and we will take the necessary lessons. A cabinet reshuffle is possible, though not necessarily related to the election results," a visibly downcast Erdogan told a news conference at party headquarters.

Unofficial results with 80 percent of votes counted showed the AK Party winning 39 percent of the vote in provincial assemblies as voters remained convinced Erdogan was in the best position to steer the Muslim country through the global economic downturn.

"If the AK Party falls below 40 percent and loses Istanbul, this will be serious for Erdogan," said Murat Yetkin, a columnist for the newspaper "Radikal," often critical of the government.

In an interview on March 27, Erdogan said he would consider it a failure if his party received less in the provincial assembly votes than the 47 percent it won in the 2007 parliamentary elections.

The vote for mayors and municipal and provincial assemblies was marred by violence in which at least five people were killed in the southeast in clashes between rival supporters for non-party village chief posts. Nearly 100 people were injured.