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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Turkey elections — as it happened: Erdogan claims victory

Turkey heads to the polls on Sunday to vote in both presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day for the first time in its history

This live blog is now closed: For more Turkey election coverage visit:

Erdogan declares total victory but opposition remains defiant

Streets come alive as Erdogan supporters celebrate thumping victory

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Stay with us throughout Sunday for all of the latest from Turkey's elections, for which Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs more than 50 per cent of the presidential vote to secure re-election outright.

His main challenger is Muharrem Ince of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), while key Kurdish rival, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) representative Selahattin Demirtas, is campaigning from a prison cell where he has been held on terrorism charges regarding alleged links to Kurdish militants.

Polls suggest that the outcome remains too close to predict. Voting opens at 8am local time (9am UAE time) and closes at 5pm.

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2245: Erdogan claims victory in televised address

President Erdogan has declared victory in the elections, citing what he said was a public mandate for him and the alliance led by his ruling AK Party at a televised press conference.

“The unofficial results of the elections have become clear. According to these... I have been entrusted by the nation with the task and duties of the presidency.”

“Our people have given us the job of carrying out the presidential and executive posts,” he said in a short speech in Istanbul.

“I hope nobody will try to cast a shadow on the results and harm democracy in order to hide their own failure.”

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2245: HDP jubilation as party passes 10% threshold

Excitement and demonstrations broke out in Istanbul’s majority-Kurdish Tarlabası district as the HDP passed the 10% threshold.

“This is a win for us, because Erdogan tried to kill us. We came from nothing, from zero to the 12 point mark,” says Azad Barıs, an international affairs analyst at HDP’s Istanbul headquarters.

HDP is expected to win approximately 66 seats in parliament, an increase of three MPs.

About a hundred Tarlabası charged through the streets waving flags, holding sparklers and chanting celebratory slogans as they were greeted by excited supporters clapping and banging pots from their windows.

Though HDP’s presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas managed to garner nearly 8 per cent of the presidential vote, he remains in prison facing several terrorism charges.

“Demirtas stuck by our side in this struggle,” says Barıs, “This vote was to say that he is not alone, he is still a part of this movement. Our voters will probably support Muharrem Ince if it goes to the second round.”

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2215: Non-governmental vote monitor urges caution over predictions

It's worth noting that the Fair Election Platform has said that not enough results are yet in for a result to be called (see last post). In a Twitter post, the non-government organisation has urged caution about the latest predictions:

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2205: State broadcaster TRT calls election for Erdogan

The state-run broadcaster TRT has called the election for Mr Erdogan, despite the independent monitor saying that less than 50 per cent of the votes have been counted and the opposition accusing the government of publishing skewed figures that count votes from pro-AKP areas first:

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2200: Many voices as Istanbul votes but no agreement on best path

Reporting from the streets of Istanbul, The National’s Pesha Magid found many voices with little agreement on what the country’s future path should be:

“Turkish voters came out in their droves on Sunday to cast ballots in an election that many see as the last chance to secure the country’s political future. In Istanbul, lines of voters streamed steadily out of the polling stations while many stuck around to observe, sip tea, and discuss the outcome of today’s critical election.

Turkey typically has a very high voter turnout, but unlike previous elections, there was hardly a person to be found didn't have an opinion and wanted to make it known.”

Read more here

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2110: State press agency says Erdogan is at 53 per cent

The Turkish state press agency put Mr Erdogan at 55 per cent in the presidential election, which if accurate would mean he avoids a run-off.

The “fair election” group places the president at only 43.5 per cent nationwide. The fair election is a group behind a mobile application designed to provide a more secure election in Turkey.

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2017: HDP member of parliament relays concern about voter fraud

Shawn Carrié reports – Hüda Kaya, an HDP parliament member running for re-election, addressed voters in the Tarlabaşı district in Istanbul: “We are extremely worried about the serious reports coming from Suruç that there have been some unfortunate incidents, and we are also investigating some reports from Istanbul that there were some cars with boxes stuffed with ballots. So we are keeping vigilant for those trying to unfairly influence the outcome of the election in favor of the government.”

“We are watching as a community, and the whole world is watching this election.

“It’s very unfair that our presidential candidate is in prison and can only speak with his wife for ten minutes at a time.”

Huda  Kaya, a HDP member of parliament standing for re-election, speaks to the press after casting her vote in Tarlabasi, a predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Istanbul, on June 24, 2018. Pesha Magid for The National
Huda  Kaya, a HDP member of parliament standing for re-election, speaks to the press after casting her vote in Tarlabasi, a predominantly Kurdish neighbourhood of Istanbul, on June 24, 2018. Pesha Magid for The National

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1806: Violence reported in Erzurum

At least three Iyi Party workers, including the district chairman, were killed in a shooting in Karaçoban in the eastern province of Erzurum, local newspapers have reported.

Yenicag reports Iyi Party Chairman for Erzurum Karaçoban District, Mehmet Sıddık Durmaz, lost his life in a gunfight during the voting in ISE Secondary School located in Kopal.

Iyi Party members have also confirmed the violence.

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1800: Polls close

It's just gone 5pm in Turkey, which means that polls have now closed across the country.

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1712: Politics divides families

Shawn Carrié reports – A family of three women in Istanbul's Fatih district all voted for different parties.

The youngest, Emine, 20, says: "I used to vote with the MHP, but this time I decided to I wouldn't vote for those who have allied with the government. I was very upset by their organization and their rhetoric, its internal conflicts within in the party and its flip-flopping, so when Meral Akşener broke away from the MHP, my decision was clear."

Emine, 20, (pictures with her hands only, by request) says: "I used to vote with the MHP, but this time I decided to I wouldn't vote for those who have allied with the government. I was very upset by their organization and their rhetoric, its internal conflicts within in the party and its flip-flopping, so when Meral Akşener broke away from the MHP, my decision was clear.  
Emine, 20, (pictures with her hands only, by request) says: "I used to vote with the MHP, but this time I decided to I wouldn't vote for those who have allied with the government. I was very upset by their organization and their rhetoric, its internal conflicts within in the party and its flip-flopping, so when Meral Akşener broke away from the MHP, my decision was clear.  

Her older sister Zeliha, however, voted CHP.

"I've always voted CHP, I've never changed my mind. We have political discussions all the time, there is freedom of thought in our household – except for our rather, he doesn't discuss or disclose who he's voting for," the 28-year-old designer said.

Their mother, Serpil, 52 and a housewife, says "women have been ignored a lot in our society – every one of us has a mind that is free to have discussions and debates. We shouldn’t follow others like a flock of sheep."

All three women follow news on social media, because "you can't hear or see any of the politicians speaking to us when you turn on the television," Emine says. "You can tell how each person is voting by what they are reading, where they get their news."

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1653: Voter anger at Erdogan's economic policies

Pesha Magid reports – At the Fatih polling station a family of women leave after all voting for CHP. The mother Emine Filizgolu, 54 and a retired civil servant, says that she thinks President Erdogan will lose this election. She is particularly angry at his economic policies. “The way I see it there used to be three classes,” she says, “the rich, the middle class and the poor – now the middle class have been has been completely eliminated.”

Her daughter Hazel, 24, worries that Erdogan will not leave easily if he loses the elections. “He won’t give up his seat,” she says. But both her and her mother are convinced that it won’t come to violence. “Whoever comes, those days are behind us,” says Emine firmly, referring to the times of political upheaval in the 1980s.

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1639: Opposition figures allege attacks by government supporters

Several reports have surfaced in the Turkish press that members of opposition parties have been attacked by members or supporters of President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and their coalition partner party the MHP. CHP member Fırat Yüksekyol was allegedly attacked in Ankara, while Good Party founding member and parliamentarian Ümit Özdağ claimed he was attacked by partisans while visiting a polling station in Istanbul to investigate alleged electoral misconduct.

1610: Allegations of attempted vote rigging from Suruc, in eastern Turkey

Andrew Wilks reports – Police in Suruc have stopped a car carrying four sacks of pre-stamped ballot papers, according to a report by The Evrensel newspaper. It is believed the ballots were intended to be swapped for legitimate voting slips, the paper reports. Three occupants of the car were arrested.

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1603: Kurdish issues on student voters' minds in Istanbul

Shawn Carrié reports – At the Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, student Deniz Burak, 23, says the Kurdish crackdown in eastern Turkey's is likely to count against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"The state of emergency has deeply affected people in the Kurdish areas of Turkey," Mr Burak says. "And before that, they were many people killed in Sur, Diyarbakir, Cider, and Nusaybin. The only party talking about this is the HDP. When you turn on the TV, you don't see politicians speaking honestly. So I think people are tired of Erdogan and they are going to vote to say his time is up."

Deniz Burak, 23, student at Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.
Deniz Burak, 23, student at Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts.

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1548: Observers in Fatih watch to prevent fraud

Pesha Magid reports — Inside the polling station at Hirkai Serif Middle School in Fatih, electoral observers from the major parties — CHP, AKP, HDP and MHP — sit and watch each person cast their vote.

This is a new policy instituted to prevent electoral fraud but some are worried that it is not enough.

Dilaranur Abi, a 25-year-old observer from HDP — the Kurdish opposition party — says that she is concerned about votes in the Southern Kurdish majority areas.

“Villagers have to walk five to six hours to vote and there have been reports of people being under pressure and party members detained,” she says referencing the controversial decision to move ballot boxes in Turkeys southeast.

Dilaranur Abi, HDP election observer, in Fatih. Photo by Shawn Carrié
Dilaranur Abi, HDP election observer, in Fatih. Photo by Shawn Carrié

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1541: Reports of shooting in Suruc in Urfa

Reports of shooting near a polling station in Suruc. One local paper said that one person was killed and three others were injured. However, officials have yet to confirm the news.

AKP supporters reportedly shot in the air to disperse voters. One woman, Mat Nashed reports, who is working in a polling station nearby said that she and other election observers saw people stuffing ballots in the boxes of the station where the shooting occurred.

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1530: Pictures emerge of President Erdogan casting his vote

Andy Wilks reports — President Erdogan has cast his vote in Uskudar, Istanbul, along with his daughter and son-in-law, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.

“The turnout seems good,” he said, and claimed that 50 per cent of the population had already voted, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

“Even in the most advanced countries around the world, the turnout rate stands at around 30 per cent. Turkey is in a more advanced position than that,” he said.

On concerns over unusual activities at polling stations, Mr Erdogan said there has so far not been “a serious problem".

He will watch part of the elections from Istanbul, before heading to Ankara.

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1459: Ten foreigners arrested for allegedly interfering with elections

The Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu says that 10 foreigners have been arrested for posing as vote observers and interfering with the elections.

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1434: Fatih voters want Erdogan's AKP to win

Pesha Magid and Shawn Carrié report from Fatih — Known to be a more conservative neighbourhood in Istanbul, Fatih residents said they were voting for Mr Erdogan’s AKP.

Two women in hijab said they voted for the party to preserve their religious freedoms.

“My husband was a soldier, and when he was serving in the military I couldn’t go and visit him because of my hijab,” says Hatice Bayrak, 70.

Semrah Keskin, 40, says: “It’s important to vote to continue development in this country. Everyone is leaving their religion much more freely than before.

“All of the refugees who came to this country from Syria, whether they be Syriac, Christian, Muslim or Jewish, no one faced any discrimination because of their religion.”

Meanwhile, Orhan Kaya, 40, a jeweller, voted with his entire family.

Orhan Kaya, 40, and his family in Fatih, Istanbul. Photo by Shawn Carrié
Orhan Kaya, 40, and his family in Fatih, Istanbul. Photo by Shawn Carrié

He, his wife and two children pose for a photo smiling. They also voted for AKP — Mr Kaya says he votes for them because of their economic policies.

“It’s important to keep the economic development going despite the war going on in Syria and the intervention of foreign powers … I find my industry is going well,” he says.

“I think the lira will go back to normal after the elections — this is a normal thing that happens every election,” he says in reference to the recent economic downturn in Turkey that has seen the lira’s value plunge to historic lows.

“I’m 40 years old and I’ve always voted for AKP — I lived through CHP and those were not good times but economic times have got better under AKP,” explains Mr Kaya.

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1354: Voter fears Kurds' situation will worsen if HDP loses

Mat Nashed reports — Mehmet Selim, who worked in Diyarbakir's municipality until 2016, says he fears that unemployment and political repression of Kurds will worsen if the HDP does not get more than the 10 per cent threshold needed to enter parliament.

Following the violence in Sur in 2015, the elected mayor, along with his staff — including Mr Selim, were fired. Mr Selim now works for minimum wage in a small cafe and struggles to support his family.

Like many HDP voters, he says he is too anxious to know the results. The success of HDP is his last hope, which is a sentiment echoed by most voters in the area.

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1335: Senior citizens line up at the polls

Pictures on social media appear to show senior citizens on wheelchairs lining up to cast their ballots on Sunday.

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1317: Investigation into vote rigging allegations opened

The Supreme Electoral Board says investigation into vote rigging allegations has been launched.

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1301: Allegations of election irregularities begin to surface

Andy Wilks reports — Allegations of election irregularities have begun to surface on social media and among independent news outlets.

In Suruc, a town near the Syrian border, an opposition worker was beaten by AKP supporters, according to BirGun newspaper. On June 14, four people were killed in the town in an armed fight between AKP campaigners and a group of shopkeepers.

Reports also alleged instances of fraud in other parts of the south-east, including opposition observers being prevented from entering polling stations and being replaced by AKP workers, threats against monitors and extra ballots being cast.

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1259: Turkish PM casts his ballot

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim casts his vote in Izmir.

"Turkey will continue moving forward to new targets [and] new horizons in stability and security with the new governing system," he says exiting the polling station.

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1251: Aksener is brave, says voter

Sahra K, 32, votes for Meral Akşener in Istanbul because 'she is a brave woman and has a clear stance'. Photo by Shawn Carrié
Sahra K, 32, votes for Meral Akşener in Istanbul because 'she is a brave woman and has a clear stance'. Photo by Shawn Carrié

Pesha Magid reports — Sahra K, 32, said she voted for Iyi Party's Meral Aksener because of her bravery and clear stance.

"I am a woman of Atatürk's principles and I would like to see this country go back to the values of when it was founded in 1923," she said.

"I've been following her since she was in the MHP even though I didn't like the rhetoric of the party, but when she founded her own party, my idea was clear."

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1247: Muslim woman criticises foreign powers

Pesha Magid reports — Semra Celik, 35, comes out of the polling station and is wearing a hijab — one of the few people wearing a headscarf in Bebek.

She tells The National she voted for the AKP “with prayers in our hearts”. She then looks at the foreign journalists and says: “You, Americans and the Israelis won’t get what you want."

There have been persistent reports, particularly in government press, that foreign powers are attempting to interfere with and "sabotage" Turkey.

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1225: Bebek station full, as people vote against Erdogan

Pesha Magid reports — The polling station at Bebek is full, and there are long lines inside the station.

Esra Deniz says shes voting against the government.

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And the worst is that we are not getting justice. I think that the people in government are doing it for their own gain.”

Her friend pushes in and says she has something to say: “This is a stance, our vote, whether there is any interference by foreign or domestic powers — we are soldiers of Atatürk and we will not let the country go to the dogs.”

Ayhan Ozturk, 56, a retired Turkish airlines employee and Iyi Party representative, says his party is a new and nationalist secular group that has been making gains in the campaign period.

“Fifty-five per cent of people do not feel relaxed because there is no democracy or justice — it’s a one man show, if Erdogan was removed AKPwould disappear,” he says.

Ayhan Öztürk, İyi Party candidate. Photo by Pesha Magid
Ayhan Öztürk, İyi Party candidate. Photo by Pesha Magid

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1222: Ince says he won't sleep until final tally

Andy Wilks reports — Speaking alongside his wife Ulku, Mr Ince said he would head to the offices of the Supreme Electoral Council in Ankara to "guard" the count, promising not to sleep until the final tally.

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1208: Iyi Party's Aksener casts her ballot

Casting her vote in Istanbul’s Beylerbeyi neighbourhood, Iyi Party candidate Meral Aksener said: “I wish these elections to be both auspicious and a true reflection of the will of the voters.”

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1201: Imprisoned Demirtas of HDP casts his vote

Imprisoned HDP presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas tweeted that he had cast his vote in Edirne high security prison in northwest Turkey.

“I wish for everyone to go to the polls and make a democratic choice for the good of the country,” he said. “I hope the voting process will be conducted in a calm and peaceful environment. I believe the results will be very beautiful. Good luck to all of us.”

At the other end of the country, in Diyarbakir, his wife Basak also cast her vote early. “I cast my vote early to end the injustice and unlawfulness we have been living with for years,” she said, according to the BirGun newspaper’s website.

Elsewhere in the southeast, HDP co-leader Sezai Temelli cast his vote in Van.

CHP candidate Muharrem Ince visited the Saffet Cam primary school in his home province Yalova on the Marmara sea to vote with his wife, son and daughter-in-law

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1155: Election monitors denied entry to polling station

Mat Nashed in Diyarbakir speaks to two election monitors, Suna Ertas and Emin Coban, who say that two non-Turkish monitors — who had volunteered on behalf of the HDP to observe the elections were denied entry to a polling station in the city.

Each party has the right to have a member monitor the vote count at each polling station.

Mr Coban says he is not surprised the two monitors were denied entry, noting the ongoing state of emergency has the potential to impede the transparency of the elections. Ms Ertas agrees but said so far that there were no reports of severe irregularities at polling stations.

Suna Ertas (L) and Emin Coban prepare to head to a polling station. Photo by Mat Nashed
Suna Ertas (L) and Emin Coban prepare to head to a polling station. Photo by Mat Nashed

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1103: People make their way to polling stations in Istanbul

Pesha Magid, reporting for The National from Istanbul, says there is a small trickle of people coming in and out of a polling station near Taksim.

One voter, Ali Han, 56, says he has thinks “terrible” things will happen if Mr Erdogan wins. He describes AKP not as a political party, but as “organised gang for profit” that has ruined the country for the past 15 years.

The city is free of the colourful political party flags that have dominated the streets for weeks as campaigning came to an end today.

Ahmet Şık, journalist and parliamentary candidate for the HDP party, votes in Istanbul. Photo by Shawn Carrie
Ahmet Şık, journalist and parliamentary candidate for the HDP party, votes in Istanbul. Photo by Shawn Carrie

Meanwhile, opposition journalist Ahmet Sik, who had been imprisoned a number of times, arrived to the polling station to cast his vote.

On his way out, he tells reporters: "Tomorrow is a better day … the clock is ticking [for the AKP]."

Zeki Burak, 69, a former fisherman, says he voted for the AKP.

Zeki Nuria, 69, former fisherman, says he voted for the AKP because Turkey is 'going in the right direction'. Photo by Shawn Carrié
Zeki Nuria, 69, former fisherman, says he voted for the AKP because Turkey is 'going in the right direction'. Photo by Shawn Carrié

"If you have a house, why move to another when your house is perfectly fine," he tells The National. Mr Burak said that Turkey is now doing better than it has in years.

On a bus, Mr Burak points to a synagogue and a church, saying: "Here, everyone can live together … in Europe, they attack each other."

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1042: People make their way to polling stations in Ankara

Andy Wilks reports for The National from Ankara.

In Ankara, streets now devoid of party bunting, banners and posters saw early voters make their way to local schools operating as polling stations for the day.

At Ahmet Vefik Pasa primary and middle school in the city’s Ayranci neighbourhood, election officials checked IDs as half-a-dozen police officers milled around the school gates and playground.

Opposition observers had been in place since 5am local time, responding to a call by CHP presidential candidate Muharrem Ince for them to arrive at their posts an hour earlier than originally planned.

“We need to guard against any attempt to interfere with the ballot boxes so we came early to make sure we could take our places,” one volunteer, who declined to be named, said.

It is the first time presidential and parliamentary elections have been held on the same day. Voters will place ballot papers for both elections in the same envelope and the presidential votes will be counted first.

“It could be confusing for some people to have two different votes on the same day,” teacher Servet Arslan, 34, said. “If people are voting for one party for parliament but a different party’s presidential candidate it could be especially confusing.”

He added: “The most important thing for me is that the vote is fair and there is no stealing votes. We need to show we are a country that can follow democratic rules.”

Read more: Millions head to the polls in Turkey's crucial double election

Across the country, media outlets are barred from reporting political comment or predictions on election day under long-standing rules. Before 9pm they are only permitted to put out the official statements of the Supreme Electoral Council, which are issued via the state-run Anadolu news agency.

The agency’s dominance on election night concerns many analysts. On Friday, a former deputy for the ruling AKP said he was worried about manipulation of early results to show the party ahead and discourage opposition election monitors.

“Anadolu Agency is so biased that I do not trust it, to be honest with you,” Suat Kinikkioglu told Medyascope, an independent news site. “I do not trust the results that come from it. They are manipulative.”

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1040: 'Salt Bae' casts his ballot

Nusret Gökçe, also known as Salt Bae, a Turkish chef and owner of Nusr-Et, a chain of steak houses, posted a picture of himself on Instagram voting on Sunday.

He became an internet sensation through a series of videos and memes from January 2017, which showed him “suavely” cutting meat and sprinkling salt. He has two restaurants in the UAE, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai.

A post shared by Nusr_et#Saltbae (@nusr_et) on

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1019: First voters casting ballots

Mat Nashed, reporting for The National from Diyarbakir, says there is heavy security presence around each school that has turned into a polling station. The streets, however, appear to be rather empty as of now.

A number of men, in their 60s, say that they voted for Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) because "the violence in [the Kurdish-majority city] Diyarbakir in 2015 was not anywhere near as brutal as the violence the Kurds endured in the 90s".

"I voted for the AKP for the future of my children, but my children voted HDP," said one man, adding that he voted for Mr Erdogan over fears that if the president is not again elected, he will start another war in Diyarbakir.

The men agreed that their children were too young to "truly remember" the bad days before Mr Erdogan, which is why the younger generation are supporters of the Kurdish HDP.

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0945: First voters casting ballots

A woman casts her ballot at a school in Istanbul.

A woman votes at a polling station in a school during elections in Istanbul,Turkey, June 24, 2018. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters
A woman votes at a polling station in a school during elections in Istanbul,Turkey, June 24, 2018. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

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0922: What's at stake?

More than 56 million Turkish citizens are eligible to vote. Mr Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, is seeking a new five-year term with vastly increased powers under a new system and his ruling party is hoping to retain its majority in parliament. The president, however, is facing a more robust and united opposition, which has vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances.

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0900: Polls open

Voting has started. After 15 years in power that have already seen Turkey transformed, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to win a new mandate and rank as the key figure of his country's modern history alongside its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Polling stations were due to close at 5pm local time (6pm UAE time), with the first results expected late in the evening.

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WATCH: How Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics

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Read more:

From high-security prison cell, Erdogan rival questions legitimacy of the election

Turkey's disparate opposition has galvanised as the 'stop Erdogan' party

Simmering resentment in south-eastern Turkey threatens Erdogan's presidential plans