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Erdoğan accuses new opposition leader of sympathizing with ‘terrorists’

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's President and leader of the Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivers a speech during his party's group meeting in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on October 25, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

In his first comments about Özgür Özel, the new leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused him of sympathizing with what he called terrorists, just like his predecessor, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, did, the NTV news website reported.

The CHP voted early on Sunday to replace Kılıçdaroğlu with Özel, a former pharmacist and veteran lawmaker who vowed to shake up the organization’s strategy ahead of local elections scheduled for March of next year. Kılıçdaroğlu, who had been at the helm of the CHP since 2010, faced growing pressure to quit after his election defeat to Erdoğan and his party in the May general election.

Erdoğan, who spoke at an inauguration ceremony in his hometown of Rize on Sunday, said just like Kılıçdaroğlu lauded “terrorist leader” Selahattin Demirtaş and jailed businessman Osman Kavala, Özer has followed in his footsteps by doing the same.

Kavala and Kurdish politician Demirtaş have been behind bars for years on politically motivated charges and have not been released from prison despite rulings from the European Court of Human Rights. Erdoğan thinks both Demirtaş and Kavala are terrorists.

In the run-up to the May elections, Erdoğan frequently accused Kılıçdaroğlu, who was the joint presidential candidate of an opposition alliance known as “Table of Six,” of having ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

“They are all the same. There is no difference between them,” said Erdoğan, referring to Kılıçdaroğlu and Özel.

Both Kılıçdaroğlu and Özel referred to Demirtaş and Kavala as well as others who are jailed on politically motivated charges, praising them in their speeches.

In response to Erdoğan’s first comments about him following his election, Özel said he understands the stress and anxiety Erdoğan is having due to his election, implying that the CHP will pose a real challenge to Erdoğan under his leadership.

Özel’s promise for reform in the party and bringing it to power will be put to the test for the first time in local elections on March 31, 2024.

Erdoğan has said his Justice and Development party (AKP) will fight vigorously to win back control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, İstanbul and Ankara, in the local elections. The CHP ended the yearslong AKP rule in these cities as well as several others in the 2019 local elections as a deterioration in the economy diminished support for the AKP.

Meanwhile, only two political party leaders, İYİ (Good) Party chair Meral Akşener and Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) head Ali Babacan, who were also in the “Table of Six,” congratulated Özel on his victory, while the leaders of the three other opposition parties — the Felicity Party (SP), the Future Party (GP) and the Democrat Party (DP) — remained silent.

Former CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu also congratulated Özel in a tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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