The Latest: Turkish leader rejects party questions in deaths

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ISTANBUL (AP) – The Latest on Turkey’s municipal elections (all times local):

3:05 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cast his vote in Istanbul for key municipal elections that will test his popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.

Speaking to reporters at his polling station, Erdogan expressed sadness over two deaths in eastern Malatya province that were linked to the elections.

The leader of the Felicity Party, an Islamic-oriented rival of the ruling party, identified the dead as party volunteers and alleged they were killed by a relative of a candidate running for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

Erdogan said it would not be “correct to make this a questioning or a judgment between political parties.”

The Turkish president called Sunday’s local elections a “keystone of democracy” and said if his party does well it would add “great power” to the administration.

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1:00 p.m.

The leader of a small Islamic-oriented party says two party members were killed in eastern Turkey.

Temel Karamollaoglu of the Felicity Party tweeted that a polling station volunteer and a party observer were killed in a district of Malatya province.

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported Sunday that the deaths followed a brawl between supporters of competing candidates in an election for neighborhood administrators. Anadolu says one person was injured.

Karamollaoglu alleged the party members were attacked by a relative of the candidate from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party.

He says the dispute wasn’t “simple animosity.” He says the volunteers tried to enforce the law requiring ballots to be marked in private voting booths instead of out in the open.

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9:35 a.m.

Voters in Turkey are electing mayors for 30 large cities, and a main battleground for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party appears to be in the capital, Ankara.

Opinion polls suggested the candidate of an opposition alliance, Mansur Yavas, could end the longtime rule of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Ankara. A former government environment minister, Mehmet Ozhaseki, is running for mayor under the banner of Erdogan and his nationalist allies.

Another closely watched mayoral election is in Istanbul. Erdogan began his rise to power as the city’s mayor in 1994 and has said at campaign rallies that “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”

Erdogan named former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to run against opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in the Istanbul mayor’s race. The president spoke at six rallies in Istanbul on Saturday.

Erdogan has campaigned tirelessly for Justice and Development Party candidates and framed the municipal elections taking place across Turkey on Sunday as matters of “national survival.”

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7:10 a.m.

Voters in Turkey have begun casting ballots in municipal elections that are seen as a barometer of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity amid a sharp economic downturn in the nation that straddles Europe and Asia.

More than 57 million voters are eligible to choose mayors, local representatives and neighborhood or village administrators. The elections are being held as Turkey faces an economic recession, rising food prices and high unemployment.

Erdogan’s past electoral successes have been based on economic prosperity, but opinion polls suggest this time around his ruling party could lose control of Turkey’s large cities, including Ankara, the capital.

Erdogan has campaigned heavily for his party’s candidates, declaring Turkey’s economic woes “an attack” on the country and framing the elections on Sunday as matter of “national survival.”

A boy shows the Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk portrait on a board school at a polling station during the local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighbourhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan’s popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
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