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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
Turkish PM declares poll victory
Voting in Istanbul, with mosque in background
The ruling party took mayoral posts in most Turkish cities
The governing party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a sweeping victory in Turkey's local elections.

Polls suggested the governing Justice and Development Party (AK) took around 43% of the vote - in its first major test since coming to power in 2002.

Mr Erdogan said the result strengthened his government and gave impetus to his policies at home and abroad.

He wants to push ahead with reforms aimed at reviving the Turkish economy and speed up its bid to join the EU.

He says he also wants to push for a resolution over the divided island of Cyprus.

Kurdish vote

With almost half the votes counted, Mr Erdogan's pro-western, Islamic-rooted party appeared to have taken the post of mayor in 55 of 81 cities - including in Istanbul and Ankara.

The main opposition, centre-left People's Republican Party, took around 15% of the vote, with the right-wing Nationalist Action and True Path parties winning around 10%.

Turkey's main pro-Kurdish movement, the Democratic People's Party, and its left-wing allies retained control of five major cities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.

They included the region's biggest city, Diyarbakir.

But the party also lost some ground gained in the last local elections, losing a number of cities to the governing party.

Cyprus talks

"Turkey once again voted for stability and development," Mr Erdogan told a press conference.

"Our party has expanded its support base. We're aware that it increased the responsibility on our shoulders."

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan flies to Switzerland for talks on Cyprus reunification
But he assured the country "victory will not spin our head" - seen as an attempt to assuage fears that he might move towards more religious-orientated policies.

Analysts say the poll seems to confirm the popularity of the party in a traditionally secular country.

AK is largely credited with bringing political and economic stability to Turkey, with the inflation rate at its lowest level in 25 years.

It has also been widely praised for keeping the country out of the Iraq war.

Initial fears that its leaders might turn to more radical, Islamic policies once in power also proved unfounded, with the government keeping its eyes firmly on a pro-EU agenda.

Analysts say the victory in Sunday's elections will now strengthen the government's hand in pushing for a settlement on the divided island of Cyprus.

After voting on Sunday, Mr Erdogan said he would call US President George W Bush, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and French President Jacques Chirac over the coming days to discuss Cyprus.

"I am going to ask for support so that the negotiations continue more positively," he said.

The UN-led peace process has entered a new phase, with Mr Erdogan due to join negotiations with Greek and Cypriot leaders in Switzerland on Monday.

Mr Erdogan has been urging the Turkish Cypriots to reach a settlement.

Unresolved issues in negotiations over the UN blueprint centre on property claims and territorial concessions.


SEE ALSO:
Annan finalises Cyprus plan
28 Mar 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Turkey
16 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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