SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Turkey’s president addressed thousands of expatriate Turks in Bosnia’s capital 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.”
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 local residents turned out to greet him, it was mostly supporters from other countries — mainly Austria and Germany — who welcomed the president after 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 in Europe Erdogan will be making. Governments in Austria, Germany and the Netherlands said they would not allow rallies for the Turkish elections.
During his appearance Sunday, Erdogan said his government would work to provide employment opportunities for Turkish citizens who retired abroad and new programs 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,” Erdogan said, referring to European lawmakers of Turkish origin.
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. 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 percent of expatriate Turks voted in favor of the change. More than 3 million Turks living abroad are eligible to vote in the upcoming national elections starting on June 7.
One Erdogan supporter who travelled from Austria to Bosnia-Herzegovina said the current campaign bans would not stop Erdogan’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 Erdogan at Sarajevo’s airport and joined him at the rally. The Turkish leader does not plan to meet the Serb and Croat members of the presidency.
Erdogan said at a news conference before the rally that reports of an alleged assassination plot against him could not deter his visit.
By AMER COHADZIC and ZEYNEP BILGINSOY , By Associated Press – published on STL.News by St. Louis Media, LLC(R.A)