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Erdogan kicks off campaign for referendum on expanding powers

Latest update : 17/02/2017

© AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to reimpose the death penalty

ISTANBUL (AFP) - 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday kicked off his campaign for a 'yes' vote at the April 16 referendum on expanding his powers, predicting Turks will back the changes he craves.

Analysts are predicting that the outcome of the referendum on the new constitution to create an executive presidency is no foregone conclusion and Erdogan is expected to criss-cross Turkey in the next two months to mobilise voters.

He kicked off the campaign -- after returning from a tour of Gulf countries -- in the eastern city of Kahramanmaras, one of the areas that gave him the most votes in the 2014 presidential polls.

"We are on the threshold of a historic decision," Erdogan told thousands of supporters in Kahramanmaras in a speech carried live on television.

"April 16 will be the night of carrying out reform in Turkey," he added.

Opponents fear that the touted presidential system -- which would discard the post of prime minister for the first time in Turkey's history -- would cement one-man rule in the country under Erdogan.

But Erdogan argued that the new system would clearly delineate between the executive and the legislature, so that "everyone can concentrate on their own business".

"The president will rule the country, the parliament will enact the laws and the judiciary will look after the legal process," he said.

Erdogan said that the new system would mean there would be no return to the "old Turkey" of short-lived coalition governments, which, he said sometimes lasted just 25 days and had an average survival rate of 16 months.

"My friends, that Turkey is finished. Have you not forgotten those nightmarish days of political conflicts and economic crises?" he asked.

Relations with the West and have strained in the wake of the July 15 coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, which was followed by a crackdown whose magnitude is unprecedented in Turkish history.

The president reaffirmed he would approve legislation reimposing the death penalty in Turkey -- if it was approved by parliament after the referendum.

Reimposing the death penalty -- abolished in 2004 -- would spell the end of Turkey's embattled bid to join the European Union.

But Erdogan said he was not bothered by what the EU had to say about the issue.

"I'm not interested in what the European Union, says, in what Hans and George say," said Erdogan, using two typical European first names.

"What interests me is what Ahmet, Mehmet, Ayse, Fatma say," he said, using traditional Turkish Muslim names. "I am interested in what Allah (God) says!"

© 2017 AFP