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AKP Emerges Strong Winner From Turkish Local Elections

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters in Ankara after his party's strong showing in local elections on March 30.
Turkey's ruling party, the AKP, has emerged a strong winner from the country's local elections.

Turkish television says that, with 98 percent of votes counted on March 31, the AKP had more than 45 percent compared to about 28 percent for the opposition CHP.

CNN Turk TV reports that the AKP maintained control over Istanbul and appears to have won a narrow victory in Ankara, though results have not been finalized.

The poll has been widely seen as a referendum on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AKP has been in power since 2002.

AKP supporter Salih Seker told the Reuters news agency in Ankara that the poll shows the country supports Erdogan against his critics.

"The outcome of the polls was democracy and it was fair," he said. "And [the AKP] responded to those who were calling for elections with the result that came out of the ballot box."

The local election campaigns were marked by polarizing rhetoric as Turkey's political divisions deepened over a corruption scandal that has been simmering since December and allegedly involved Erdogan's top political allies.

Erdogan said after the polls closed that he would "enter the lair" of enemies who have accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets and that "they will pay for this."

Erdogan accuses U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen , a former ally, of mounting a smear campaign against him by using followers in the police force to manufacture a corruption case.

Speaking to thousands of cheering supporters from a balcony at his AKP headquarters in Ankara, Erdogan called on his opponents to stop dividing the country.

"In this new period, Turkey needs a new opposition that will embrace its people just like the ruling party," he said. "Turkey doesn't need an opposition that encourages discrimination and polarization but it needs an opposition that will speak the same language as 77 million."

The favorable elections outcome for the AKP comes as Erdogan reportedly is considering whether to run for the presidency in August, or to change the AKP's own rules in order to seek a fourth term as prime minister next year.
With reporting by AP and Reuters
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