Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-elected as ruling party leader

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been returned as leader of Turkey’s ruling party.

The Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, re-elected Mr Erdogan, its co-founder, at a congress where he was the only candidate for chairman.

A narrow victory in a referendum last month to expand the powers of the Turkish presidency allows him to be both the head of state and of a political party.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in Ankara, Mr Erdogan said he was back after “998 days of separation” from the party and outlined a vision for its immediate future and elections scheduled for November 2019 with new executive and grassroots teams.

“This congress is the AK Party’s rebirth,” he said before the vote. “AK Party is not just its voters’ party, it’s the party for all of our 80 million citizens.”

Elected with 1,414 votes, Mr Erdogan set the party’s course for what he called a “new era” of reforms.

“The upcoming months will be a period of soaring in all areas, including combating terror, the economy, expanding rights and freedoms and investments,” the president said.

Mr Erdogan was forced to cut his formal ties to the party when he became the country’s first directly-elected president in 2014.

Last month’s referendum eliminated a constitutional requirement mandating that presidents be neutral and cut ties with their political parties.

Critics say the referendum transforming Turkey’s parliamentary governing system to an executive presidency was marred by allegations of election fraud.

The vote took place under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of last year’s failed coup.

Mr Erdogan defended the state of emergency and said it would remain in place “until the situation reaches peace and welfare”. He said it had not affected civil rights.

Turkey blames the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for the July 15 coup attempt that left nearly 270 dead – a charge Mr Gulen has denied.

Under the state of emergency, more than 47,000 people have been arrested and 100,000 dismissed from public service for alleged connections to the cleric and groups Turkey deems terror organisations.

A dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish opposition party, including its co-presidents, are behind bars along with some 160 journalists.

Hours before the congress convened, two suspected Islamic State militants were killed in an Ankara police operation.

The operation follows a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State (IS) group, which led to Turkey’s cross-border operation into northern Syria to combat both IS and US-backed Syrian Kurdish militants.

Mr Erdogan’s meeting with US President Donald Trump last week resolved little of the discord over his administration’s decision to more heavily-arm Syrian Kurdish militants as part of the fight against IS.

Turkey considers the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria a terror organisation and an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Mr Erdogan has said he would retaliate if the YPG posed a security threat, signalling more cross-border operations.

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