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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Thousands of Turks attend Erdogan election rally in Bosnia

Supporters travelled from other countries to hear Turkish president speak

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at an election rally in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on May 20, 2018. Presidential Press Service / Pool via AP
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at an election rally in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on May 20, 2018. Presidential Press Service / Pool via AP

Turkey's president addressed thousands of expatriate Turks in Bosnia's capital on Sunday to shore up support before his country's snap presidential and parliamentary elections next month.

Adapting his domestic campaign speeches to include promises to Turkish citizens living abroad, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on "European Turks to show their strength to the whole world".

Mr Erdogan received a warm welcome in Sarajevo, reflecting the popularity he and Turkey enjoy in Bosnia, particularly among Bosnian Muslims, who view the country as their main protector and backer.

But, unlike previous visits to Bosnia when thousands of residents turned out to greet him, it was mostly supporters from other countries - mainly Austria and Germany - who welcomed him, arriving for the rally in buses.

Turkey will vote on June 24, more than a year earlier than scheduled. The presidential election will usher in an executive presidency that concentrates more powers in the president's hands and abolishes the office of prime minister.

Sarajevo currently is the only campaign stop Mr Erdogan will be making in Europe. Governments in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands said they would not allow rallies for the Turkish elections.

During his appearance at Zetra Olympic Hall on Sunday, Mr Erdogan said his government would work to provide employment opportunities for Turkish citizens who retired abroad and new programmes for children to learn Turkish.

He urged supporters to actively participate in European politics as a way to counter anti-Turkish sentiment.

"You need to be in those parliaments instead of the ones who betray our country," Mr Erdogan said, referring to European politicians of Turkish origin.

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A diplomatic spat ensued last year after Germany and the Netherlands imposed bans on campaign events for Turkey's referendum on creating the executive presidency. Mr Erdogan and his foreign minister compared officials in those countries to Nazis.

The new system of governance narrowly passed the April 2017 referendum, but 59 per cent of expatriate Turks voted in favour of the change. More than three million Turks living abroad are eligible to vote in the upcoming national elections, starting on June 7.

One Erdogan supporter, who travelled to Bosnia-Herzegovina from Austria, said the campaign bans would not stop the Turkish president's fans from meeting "the Chief".

"No matter how much they try to restrict the people, Turkey is behind him and Turkey will not leave him alone," Cumali Tepe said.

The Muslim Bosnian head of Bosnia's three-member presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, met Mr Erdogan at Sarajevo's airport and joined him at the rally. The Turkish leader did not plan to meet the Serb and Croat members of the presidency.

Mr Erdogan told reporters before the rally that reports of an alleged assassination plot against him could not deter his visit.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported on Saturday there had been tip-offs from intelligence agencies about a potential assassination attempt against the president during his visit to the Balkans.

Earlier on Sunday, the Turkish and Bosnian transport ministers signed an agreement on the construction of a highway connecting Sarajevo to the Serbian capital Belgrade, a project estimated to cost $3.5 billion (Dh12.9bn) but so far blocked by the Bosnian Serbs, who dispute the road route.

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