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PM Seeks Votes for ‘Strong’ Turkey in April Referendum | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, Binali Yildirim and his wife Semiha (L) greet supporters on February 25, 2017 in Ankara. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called on the public to say “yes” to boosting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers on Saturday, saying it would strengthen Turkey at the ruling party’s first pro-referendum rally.

The event in Ankara sports arena was held ahead of the April 16 referendum when Turks will vote on whether to approve constitutional changes creating an executive presidency.

“For a strong Turkey, lasting stability, our choice is ‘yes’. This is our wish, it will come,” Yildirim said, addressing party members and supporters who had come from across the country’s 81 provinces.

Ahead of his arrival, the crowd had been rallied by recordings of campaign songs with lyrics saying a “yes” vote would be a tribute to the “July martyrs” killed during last year’s failed coup, and saying the changes would ensure a fair judiciary and respect opposing sides.

When Yildirim arrived, he began handing out red carnations to the audience.

Last July’s coup featured heavily in a video screened ahead of his speech, with images of the victims also appearing on banners held by the audience.

The premier insisted no one would be forced to back the changes, which the government says are necessary for political harmony but which critics fear will create one-man rule.

“There is no creating fear,” he told the excited crowds. “We want a willing yes.”

Some 6,500 police provided security inside and around the arena on Saturday, according to state-run Anadolu news agency.

In the arena, there were thousands of people, including many young women, most of whom were waving Turkish flags — noticeably there were no AKP flags — or carrying banners, including one praising “grand master” Erdogan.

Ahead of the referendum, “we will go square-to-square, street-by-street, door-by-door, and we know what we will say for change, don’t we?” Yildirim said, portraying the reform as a vote for stability.

Under the new constitution, the president will have strengthened executive powers to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers, to declare emergency rule and dissolve parliament.

The post of prime minister would be replaced with one or more vice presidents.

The country of 80 million will vote on the reform in a plebiscite on April 16, with a simple majority needed to approve legislation passed by parliament in January and rubber-stamped by Erdogan last month.